One state agency has criticized another for not properly overseeing the cleanup of a Waterford tire dump that burned out of control for nearly a week in 2002.
In an audit released Wednesday, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office concluded the Department of Environmental Conservation failed to track progress of the Mohawk Tire Storage Facility from Sept. 12, 2004, to Sept. 30, 2006.
The privately owned dump contains millions of tires and the melted remains of tires that burned in March 2002.
At the time of the fire, state officials estimated that up to 8 million tires were illegally stored at the dump, which operated from the 1960s until environmental regulators shut it down in 1999.
In 2004, the Mohawk property was one of 95 sites targeted by state officials under a tire cleanup program funded by a $2.50 surcharge on new tire sales. Because of their high petroleum and rubber content, stockpiled tires are considered an environmental and fire hazard.
Under the program, the tires are shredded and used by the state Department of Transportation as fill for road construction projects.
Mohawk Tire’s former owners, William and Kathryn Williamson, were cited with nearly 40 environmental violations for improperly storing the tires, which authorities said were stacked several stories high and in some places were buried 15 feet underground.
They were fined $15 million in 2003, and a mid-level appeals court upheld the fines the following year.
Private contractors to date have removed 6.1 million tires from the Waterford site under two different contracts, said DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren. About 3.5 million tires still remain, she said.
There were significantly more than the 8 million tires the state originally estimated because many of the tires were buried. “The piles turned out to be bigger than we thought,” Wren said.
The comptroller’s audit includes a plan by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis to step up efforts at tire dumps around the state by 2010.
The audit faults Grannis’ predecessors for not tracking the progress of the cleanup at the Waterford site and another tire site in Suffolk County.
Grannis’ response to the audit notes that 126 sites containing 31.8 million old tires had been identified in the state and, of those, 57 sites have been cleaned up since a plan was put into action in 2004.
He said progress is being made in the remaining sites.
Each year, 18 to 20 million tires are discarded statewide, according to the DEC.
In the audit, DiNapoli said, “Waste tires aren’t just an eyesore. These dump sites are extremely volatile safety and environmental hazards. All those tires become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and diseases like West Nile virus, and when they burn, they burn bad, polluting the air and nearby groundwater.”
DEC is required under the Waste Tire Management and Recycling Act of 2003 to develop individual abatement schedules for every noncompliant site.
As of the close of the audit, DiNapoli’s office discovered DEC had not done so and there was no way to measure the state’s progress in meeting the Dec. 31, 2010, abatement deadline.