DURYEA — Long gone are the plumes of black smoke, flames and choking fumes from the massive fire nearly 23 years ago at a tire recycling site at the Coxton Rail Yard.
Nearly gone too are the 2 acres of car, truck and tractor tires left on the property owned by the Reading & Northern Railroad. By next month, the site should be cleaned up at a cost of about $1 million.
State Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill County, who drafted the Waste Tire Recycling Act in 1996 that started similar cleanups across Pennsylvania, surveyed the progress Wednesday as two excavators sorted through the remaining tires, keeping the good for recycling and heaving the burned and bad for disposal.
The project overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection marked the cleanup of 95 percent of the millions of waste tires across Pennsylvania, Argall pointed out.
“That’s a solid A in my book,” Argall said.
More than an eyesore, the piles are environmental, health and safety hazards as evidence from fires such as the one deliberately set the morning of Sept. 15, 1991, at the former Tire Reclamation Services operation on the property next to the Susquehanna River. The resources and money spent to battle such fires are enormous and the piles become breeding grounds for mosquitoes known to carry the West Nile Virus.
There are six other sites including two each in Greene and Indiana counties, that will be removed. In addition to his legislation, Act 24 of 2010 transferred $5 million to clean up priority piles from the state’s Recycling Fund.
Argall noted a consumer fee paid to dispose of used tires funds mass transit.
“The state is much more alert to that problem than we were 10, 20, 30 years ago. So yes, we’re not just cleaning up the old piles, we’re stopping new piles before they start,” Argall said.
Bundled up from a freezing wind that blew across the flat land bordered on one side by the railroad tracks and the river on the other, state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, recalled visiting a huge Starr tire dump in Columbia County. There were fire lanes through the site that’s since been cleaned up, he said.
More than 800 firefighters from 52 companies in Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming counties responded to the Coxton Yard fire.
A volunteer fire department from Greensburg in western Pennsylvania brought a truck and equipment to shoot foam on the blaze. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard assisted bringing pumps from the state Emergency Management Service to draw water from the river.
The fire burned for three days before it was brought under control and raised concerns about runoff into the river that served as a source of drinking water to communities downstream.
The fire ended the recycling operation of Bruce Scran and John Lynch and did what DEP had not been able to do. The state agency in March 1991 ordered the men to stop the tire dump and submit a plan to DEP on how the tires would be removed.
Colleen Connolly, a spokesman for DEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre, said Duryea, where the dump is located, received three tire removal grants:
• $136,312 in the 2000-2001 fiscal year for the removal of 99,906 tires.
• $400,000 in the 2001-2002 fiscal year for the removal of 293,080 tires.
• $400,000 in the 2002-2003 fiscal year for the removal of 299,169 tires.
Last year, DEP awarded a $119,808 contract to Environmental Restoration Inc. of Courtdale to clean up Coxton Yard and another site. Of the total, $89,665 went to the Coxton site through the Used Tire Pile Restricted Account that was established under Argall’s legislation.
The restricted fund within the state’s general fund budget received $1 million a year for five years. An amendment in 2009 continued the funding until 2013. Additional money comes from Waste Tire Transporter authorizations and fines.
“This announcement is the finality of illegal tires being dumped here in Coxton Yard,” Connolly said.