Tolley: ‘More than one hazard involved’ in massive pile of discarded tires
Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022
By Stacy Graning
The Elizabethton Star
An Elizabethton business owner faces thousands of dollars in fines and criminal prosecution for dumping tires behind his business.
Jeremiah Tolley, Elizabethton fire marshal, said he first issued a citation to Tim Zimmerman in January about the nearly 6,000 tires piled behind Betsy Used Tires and Batteries at 332 W. Elk Ave.
“We’ve been dealing with this issue since 2012,” Tolley said Tuesday. “Usually we’d go by, tell him to clean it up and he would.”
In the beginning of the year, “he was trying to get caught back up,” Tolley said. “But all of a sudden he quit.”
Zimmerman’s business centers on buying used tires, sorting through them, reselling what he can and disposing of the remainder. Unfortunately, Tolley said, those discarded tires have been piled up behind the business, creating both an eyesore and more important a fire hazard.
And while the pile of tires is not easily visible from highly traveled Elk Avenue, it is on prominent display for the people using the historic Tweetsie Trail.
“If you walk down the Tweetsie Trail, it’s obvious,” Tolley said.
As the business owner’s responsiveness waned, Tolley found himself issuing the first fire code citation in January. “Since then, we’ve been in municipal court four times, I think,” Tolley said, adding that the fine for violating the citation is $50 per day. “Right now, he’s in the few thousand dollars range for fines.”
Last week Municipal Judge Jason Holley once again admonished Zimmerman and said he could no longer bring in more tires until the unused tires are removed from the business.
Efforts to reach Zimmerman on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The tires present both a fire danger and health concerns. Tolley said if the tires were to catch fire, his department could spend “four days to a week” trying to extinguish it due to the size of the pile. Moreover, tires create hazardous runoff. “If you put water (on a tire fire) you have to figure out how to contain it because there’s two-and-a-half quarts of oil from each tire.”
That runoff could feed to local rivers, and hazardous smoke could threaten nearby residents. “Even though we’re a pretty quick response department, we could be there four days to a week, and that’s if we have good water supply,” Tolley said.
Tires also create an ideal environment for mosquitos to breed in summertime, creating another issue for area residents.
“There’s more than one hazard involved,” Tolley said.
Tolley has reached out to city officials in Johnson City, which owns the Tweetsie Trail, regarding the situation and possible infringement on the trail’s right of way.
“We support the City of Elizabethton’s efforts to address it from their end,” said Charlie Stahl, assistant city manager for Johnson City. “It violates a variety of code issues … and it looks like it could be encroaching on our property, which is a right of way issue. If so, that could be trespassing onto our property and, ultimately, we could end up taking the issue to court.”
However, both Tolley and Stahl want to try and resolve the issue without further legal action, if possible.
The best- case scenario would be for Zimmerman to dispose of the tires. Tolley cited a business in Bristol that recycles discarded tires. “Of course, you have to pay to get them there and pay the business to take the tires,” he said.
And, if the business owner fails to resolve the issue, the responsibility could fall to the property owners – Fred and Barbara Zeidan, who lease the building to Zimmerman. “Ultimately if Zimmerman leaves the tires, they are going to have to clean it up,” Tolley said.
Barbara Zeidan said Tuesday the couple appreciates efforts by Tolley and city officials to help them resolve the issue. They have taken actions to evict Zimmerman effective June 30.
“We were really hoping the tenant would do the right thing,” she said. “We’re still assessing damages as well. Not only are there the issues of removing the tires, but there is extensive property damage and the challenge of not having rent paid for several months now,” she said.