Millions spent in attempt to rebound from illegal tire dumps

The magic number was 1.1 million.

That was the number of dumped tires environmentalists pulled out of the Garner/Brandywine property in Prince George’s county in 2012.

It was the biggest cleanup in Maryland history. It cost the state more than $10.6 million.

Two years after the massive cleaning,  state leaders say the land is bouncing back and is on track to becoming a restorative wetland and forest. 

One key to revitalization following cleanups is the aftercare plan.

“That’s the thing about mother nature, she’ll rebound,” said John Long, president of the environmental group Clean Bread and Cheese Creek. “Just give her time and a little help.”

For 10 years, Long’s organization has done close to 50 cleanups in southeast Baltimore County.

PHOTOS: A look at tire dumping in Maryland

He’s personally hauled hundreds of tires to recycling plants.

“While tires can be detrimental, they can also be recycled,” Long said. “That’s what we do when we encounter this type of dumping situation.”

Long said his organization's efforts are paying off.

“There is one spot in Dundalk we’ve been cleaning for years,” he said. “Once we cleaned out the tires- we saw the grass come back and the water flow properly--it shows we’re doing the right thing.”

In 2012, officials at the Maryland Department of the Environment included a plan to build wetlands on the former Garner/Brandywine property.

James Woods, a project manager for the Maryland Environmental Service, said to help restore the 15 acre property, officials worked to stabilize the soil through tree planting and grass growing.

To help restore the wetlands, MES took healthy grasses from other sites and planted them at Garner/Brandywine.

Two years later, Woods said his organization returns three times a year to check for signs of progress.

In five years, if 75 percent of the trees survive, the property will be on a road to self-sufficiency.

“The progress so far is great,” he said. “For me, I listen for frogs- which have come back.”

MDE officials hope to have the same result with another tire cleanup in Anne Arundel County.

Last month, $2.5 million was approved to cleanup a tire dump in Crownsville, which is estimated to have anywhere from 150,000 to $5 million tires in it.

“I don’t think we will know the full number until MDE is in there,” said Diana Miller, riverkeeper for the South River Federation.

In 2012, MDE sued the Crownsville property owners Louis A. Boehm and Joseph T. Boehm to try to force them to clean up the tires.

Cleanup is anticipated for 2015.

Miller  said that once the tires are gone, a consent decree, which was signed last month, will prevent the land from being developed.

South River officials would love the chance to help improve the land environmentally, but since it’s privately owned, they cannot cultivate it on a regular basis.

Woods said since the Crownsville dump site has ravines and forestry  like Garner/Brandywine site, he anticipates a similar environmental plan.

“We will probably plan trees and restore the wetlands,” he said. “Then regularly check for growth.”

If left for years, tire dump sites can be poison for the environment.

Tires can block the natural flow of water, put petroleum into the Chesapeake Bay and cause fires that can destroy parts of an ecosystem.

“Tire fires are extremely hard to put out,” said Lynn Buhl, acting executive director for the South River Federation. “In Crownsville, we worry what a drought might do to the whole place.”

Long said he’s always finding small scale tire dumps in the Dundalk area.

He’s always baffled on how remote the sites are.

“Many times they are miles from the road,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would take a tire and carry a half-mile away just to dump it--it’s easier just to get the county to haul it away.”

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