WAGON MOUND, N.M. (KRQE) - The massive and growing pile of tires outside the village of Wagon Mound is on New Mexico State Trust land, but the man responsible for it won't call it a dump.
He said the project helps the land despite the possibility that taxpayers may one day have to pay to clean up all that rubber.
"With the blessing of the environmental department, we started that project down there," said Harold Daniels, a Wagon Mound-area rancher and businessman who has leased the state land in question for at least the last decade. "It's not a tire dump. It's an erosion-control project."
Officials at the New Mexico Environment Department admit they originally authorized tires to be used as erosion control in a 15-foot-deep arroyo that runs through the property. Pictures from 2006 seem to support that project as a form of erosion control.
"They had carefully placed the tires like doughnuts flat on the ground at the head of the erosion area," said Auralie Ashley-Marx, director of the Solid Waste Bureau. "And they were silting in and grass was growing. At that early point in time, with that placement method, it seemed to be working. But he abandoned that placement method and just started chucking them in there."
A recent visit to the property confirmed the arroyo is filled almost to the brim with old tires -- literally thousands and thousands of them. See the KRQE News 13 Skyranger fly over the arroyo here.
Daniels, who owns the Northeast New Mexico Regional Landfill in Wagon Mound, told News 13 he diverted tires from that dump to the arroyo.
"We've land-filled quite a few tires," he said. "We've done this erosion-control project that has really worked."
Ashley-Marx said Daniels is likely misinterpreting the Environment Department's position on the project.
"We've sent him letters stating that he's not to bring any more tires to this site," she said. "I don't know how much clearer we can be on that."
Former State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons endorsed Daniels' erosion-control project in a memo he signed Dec. 28, 2010 -- one of his last days in office.
"This memorandum is also intended to serve as the proof that the aforementioned tire erosion project is deemed approved by the State Land Office," the memo said.
Lyons, a Republican who is now chairman of the Public Regulation Commission, said that though he signed the letter, he never visited the site. He refused to answer further questions about the project, saying he doesn't work in the Land Office anymore.
Newly-elected Land Commissioner Ray Powell, a Democrat, decidedly does not endorse the project.
"During this administration, not only is this not approved, but this is a case study in how you don't do good land management," he said. "I've never seen this done before.
"I don't know which planet he feels this is a common practice on, but I've never seen it in New Mexico or in my experience in other places outside a commercial landfill tire dump."
Furthermore, it isn't going to remain in its present condition, Powell said.
"This is inexcusable, and we're going to make sure it gets cleaned up," he said. "And the people who made this mess are going to be held responsible for it."
Daniels has submitted an engineering plan explaining why the tires are a legitimate form of erosion control. The Environment Department is reviewing it.
"Even though I'm a rancher, I strongly believe in taking care of the land," Daniels said. "I feel real good about (the tire project). It's really working."
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