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Hundreds of tires dumped along Russian River near Hopland

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Scrapped waste tires dumped by the hundreds at two sites along the Russian River near Hopland have incensed local watershed stewards eager to see someone held accountable.

Whether law enforcement investigators will be able to trace the used tires to what’s likely a commercial shop or hauler in the region is uncertain, though the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office will try, Capt. Greg Van Patten said.

Environmentalists who found the dumped tires during regular watershed clean-up efforts last month already have kicked into amateur sleuthing mode and are ready to offer investigative ideas of their own.

But mostly they’re furious anyone would be so callous about the environment in the first place, dumping what appears to be nearly 500 tires between the two sites, each discovered about two weeks apart last month.

“Something like this really bums us out and breaks our heart to see such disregard for our watershed,” said Forestville resident Chris Brokate, founder of the nonprofit Clean River Alliance, whose members have removed more than 650,000 pounds of trash from the Russian River watershed since 2015.

While illegal dumping is epidemic around the North Coast — involving everything from household garbage to major appliances and, yes, used tires — the size of the recent dumps has simply galled those involved, particularly given state restrictions on handling and transport of tires aimed at maintaining strict control of their disposal.

“They really create problems as they break down in the environment,” said Don McEnhill, executive director of the Russian Riverkeeper, the fiscal sponsor for Clean River Alliance.

The first deposit, found in early September, involved close to 300 tires scattered down a wooded hill amid a sea of garbage off a turnout just north of the green bridge on the east side of Highway 101 about a mile south of Hopland.

A member of Ukiah-based PacOut Green Team, a volunteer group that conducts weekly Saturday cleanups, discovered the tires in an area commonly used for illegal dumping while scouting potential work locations, said chapter leader Chris Ostrom, whose family-owned Pacific Outfitters founded the team.

The tires had been removed from the rims, and many had markings as to identify areas of damage, Ostrom said. Some also had stickers that appeared to have been removed from new tires and slapped on old tires before they were discarded.

Brokate found the second site Sept. 15. Nearly 200 tires had been left on a steep embankment at the edge of the river on the west side of Highway 101 just north of Frog Woman Rock near Pieta Creek.

The tires were down a short, paved turnoff near Pieta Creek and were found during a regular survey of a 2-mile stretch of highway “adopted” by Brokate’s organization through Caltrans. He said he knows the tires were dumped recently because they weren’t there just a few weeks earlier.

The short lane ends about 30 feet below the main road, out of sight of traffic at the top of a steep bank. It appears, he said, a large truck probably just dumped all the tires right there, as most remain in a sloppy mound right off the pavement, amid trees and brush. Several rolled or slid all the way down to river.

“This is maybe a year’s worth of tires from someplace,” Brokate said, exasperation in his voice as he surveyed the scene earlier this week.

Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams, whose district includes the area, echoed his thoughts.

“What’s surprising is the scale,” he said. “I mean this isn’t somebody’s private stash of tires.”

Tires contain hazardous substances that can contaminate surface water and groundwater, and must be recycled or disposed of through properly licensed entities. Even authority to move them from one place to another is limited. Under California, only a licensed hauler can legally transport more than nine tires at a time.

Commercial shops must contract with a licensed hauler to take used or waste tires from a garage to an end-use facility, with documentation signed at each end of the trip to ensure all the tires get where they’re supposed to go.

There are three licensed haulers in Mendocino County, according to Cal Recycle.

But those aware of the recent dumps believe it’s possible an unscrupulous person with a truck took pay for the tires with no intention of delivering them to a proper destination, though no one can know for sure.

Ostrom, who once worked in a tire shop, has suggested unique Department of Transportation numbers on each tire might offer a clue to their origin.

In the meantime, he and his team already have removed close to 200 tires — cramming a 14-foot trailer truck “floor-to-ceiling,” as well as two other trucks, in the process running afoul of Caltrans, which is working on securing a Cal Recycle grant to remediate both sites, Maintenance Supervisor Dan Kornegay said.

Caltrans is now storing some of the tires, while Mendocino County’s integrated waste department is holding about 120 more until the next public tire amnesty period, which allows people to turn in tires for disposal at no cost.

“What a horrible thing for someone to do, for someone to just dump them — that they leave them for someone else to be responsible,” General Manager Jennifer Lombari said. “That’s just terrible.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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