Sep 22, 2010 7:48 PM by Zach Thaxton

Millions of tires at Midway landfill to fuel cement kiln

A nearly 60-acre tire landfill near the El Paso / Pueblo County border is safer than ever and will soon begin diminishing in size to the point where it's virtually gone by the end of the decade.

The Midway Tire Landfill is the final resting place for up to 30 million used tires.  The site began accepting tires in 1989, but over the years became overrun with millions of tires and tons of garbage.  It was more than an eyesore -- it was a fire catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2008, GCC Energy took over operation of the site following bankruptcy proceedings.  In that time, site coordinator Ken Kirkpatrick, with assistance from a handful of helpers, has made the site much safer from potential fires and has prepared the site for eventual removal of the old tires.

"I didn't really sleep for 14 months," KIrkpatrick said.  "I was just doing my job.  I mean, part of it is the passion for the earth and everything else and I just wanted it right."

El Paso County Public Information Officer Dave Rose told a media gathering at the site Wednesday that the El Paso County Fire Marshal had been concerned that if tires at the Midway site had ignited in its prior state, the resulting smoke plume would close I-25 and it would take years to fully extinguish.  Kirkpatrick says he worked nearly around-the-clock for more than a year to organize the tires in to sets of so-called "cells" separated by roadways that serve as fire-breaks in case one cell were to ignite.  "Whatever fire wherever it would start, I've got a plan to attack that fire immediately," Kirkpatrick says.

After a series of permit approvals, the tens of millions of tires will be removed, run through a shredder, and sent to Pueblo to help fuel GCC Energy's cement kiln.  "Burning tires in a cement kiln doesn't just get rid of them, it turns them into part of the process of cement manufacturing and becomes a very good fuel to process," says Trent Peterson, Vice President of GCC Energy.  "It turns out that the heat content in tires is typically at least as high as that in coal and frequently the sulfur content in tires is lower than that in coal."  Peterson says ash output from incinerated tires is also less than that of coal, so burning used tires is more environmentally-friendly than burning coal.

"What's beautiful about this is this is probably a 10-year supply for us if we were to start today," according to Gina Nance with the Pueblo Cement Plant.

The Midway Tire Landfill is the second-largest in Colorado behind a similar site in the Weld County town of Hudson, and is one of the largest in the nation.  State law says the Midway site must be cleaned up by 2019.  "Now, if you get up to 2018 and it's not quite there, is the state going to be lenient, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment?  Probably," says El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg.


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