Hundreds of thousands of tires to be removed from ranch

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LIVERMORE, Colo. -- For decades, they’ve been an eyesore and a potential environmental hazard, but now hundreds of thousands of used tires are set to disappear from a Larimer County ranch.

The rubber began piling up on Roberts Ranch near Livermore in the 1970s, but at first it was with the environment in mind.

“The ranch owner at the time, and some of his foremen, decided that we could probably stop some of the erosion by dumping tires in the valleys,” said Zach Thode, manager for Roberts Ranch.

But it didn’t take long for the idea to get a bit out of control.

“People would just bring truckloads and truckloads of tires out here and just drive along and dump them into these ravines,” Thode said.

By the time the local government put a stop to the dumping in the 1990s, the issue was clear.

“This is one of the bigger (piles),” Thode said. “You’re looking at a pile that’s potentially 20 feet deep and at least 300 feet long and 20 feet wide.”

And that is just one of 17 piles along Spring Gulch.

“If we got fire into these tires, we would end up with heavy metals in all these gullies and they are then direct tributaries to a live creek,” Thode said. “If water with heavy metals goes off the ranch, we’ve created almost a Superfund cleanup site.”

And if fire doesn’t pose a threat, rain does.

“You’re storing rainwater in a tire that’s stagnant and creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” Thode said.

It’s why the state has approved nearly $500,000 to remove an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 tires.

“You can’t see the bottom, it could be 4 feet down or it could be 6 feet down. It’s hard to say,” Thode said. “We don’t know until we start taking them out.”

Even after the work, some of the tires will remain because many more have become buried over the years.

“The idea is if you can kick it and it moves, we’ll take it,” Thode said. “But if you kick it and it doesn’t move, it’s going to stay.”

But the hazard won’t stay.

“Right now I think of it as a good opportunity to clean up an old problem,” he said.

The massive cleanup effort will start Aug. 2 and if it goes as expected, it should wrap up by early November. The tires will be repurposed, likely shredded and used in playground flooring or landscaping.