Tires on the Brazos in Washington County

Beyond Blinn and Blue Bell, it's blue skies and lush landscape that dots Washington County. You'd be hard pressed to find a prettier countryside, but it's land being raped by illegal dumping.

County officials anywhere will tell you the problem of illegal dumping is growing, and so protecting the nature around places like the Brazos River is becoming increasingly difficult.

But just down the river in Washington County, you'll find a debate of sorts: the environmental responsibility versus property rights.

"It's up there close to the top," explained Mark Marzahn, Washington County's environmental department director. "As far as volume goes, the size of it, it's got to be right there at the top."

The top of the list of dump sites.

Estimates have at least 5,000 tires strewn across this northern county property on the Brazos, if not 10,000 to 15,000.

"We would like to see it get cleaned up," Marzahn said, "but at this point, aren't sure whether that's going to happen."

An anonymous fisherman first sent a complaint of tires in the Brazos back in 2003. Pictures show that with a good shower, it still can happen to this day.

Marzahn's office got in touch with the property owners.

"We notified them that it needed to be cleaned up, that it was an illegal dump site, and worked with them on that for quite a few months," Marzahn said. "We didn't really get anywhere."

That is, until the property owners produced documentation that this dump is technically a legal one.

"In essence, you get grass growing in these tires, like a tire being a pot," said Eddie Harrison. "It holds moisture, holds soil."

- Read Steve's blog on this story.

Harrison was a Washington County agriculture agent from beginning in 1955. In his time in the office, owners of what's known as the Malley Wells farm were trying to stop soil erosion, and that laying down old tires was a viable method, so he with the Department of Agriculture signed off on it.

Harrison says people in those days weren't too concerned about things like rains washing old tire rubber off the roadways and into the river.

"It didn't concern anybody that those damages were done," Harrison said, "so consequently, it didn't concern the people at the time about using them for erosion."

- Read Harrison's letter to Washington County officials

But today, it's different. Harrison says there's no way he would recommend tires to prevent erosion if the same problem was presented to him today.

For the record, we went to the property, but found its gate locked. We were able to speak with the man who lives on the property occasionally. He declined a taped interview, but said the tires were there before he was, he hasn't added to them, and that he didn't have the funds to pick them up and put down a suitable erosion solution.

Washington County's attorney has advised no response, so the tires will stay.

- Read Washington County's incident report

"You know, it's frustrating to know it's there," Marzahn said, "but at the same time, you can understand why they're there, that they were told to do it."

According to the county, the property owners got an estimate on removing all the tires of around $50-60,000.

The Department of Agriculture has told the owners they may be able to provide grants to stop the erosion, but only if the tires are gone, and they won't help with the removal.

- Read the National Resources Conservation Service memo

With no guarantee of future help with the erosion, the property owners have said they won't bring that rubber off the river.

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