Thousands of old tyres dumped in Frankton
A failed business tasked with disposing of used car tyres has left Hamilton ratepayers with a quarter of a million dollars clean-up bill.
An investigation has revealed up to 150,000 old tyres have been abandoned at an Empire Street depot in Frankton.
The site is leased by Hamilton City Council from KiwiRail and was used to store barriers, walkways and other fixtures for the Hamilton V8 street race.
Following the event’s demise, council subleased the site to three tenants, including tyre recyclers Pacific Foods and Products Distribution NZ.
The company moved to the site in August last year but quickly ran into difficulties with concerns the huge tyre stockpile posed a major fire risk.
Sean Murray, Hamilton City Council’s events and economic development general manager, said the Hamilton-based company was no longer able to honour the terms of its sublease, leaving ratepayers to foot a $260,000 clean-up bill.
The council had planned to hand back the site to KiwiRail at the end of March but instead have had to take out a short-term lease as it grappled with what to do with the mountain of tyres.
“The reality is the tenant failed and at the same time as his business failed he had some fairly severe life-threatening health issues,” Murray said.
The Companies Office website lists Robert Swetman as the sole director of Pacific Foods and Products Distribution NZ.
Council staff have since arranged for Kawerau-based recycling company EcoVersion to remove the tyres.
“When [Pacific Foods and Products Distribution NZ] could no longer give assurances that they could remove the tyres in time, or ever do it, that’s when it became clear to us that we were going to be left holding the baby,” Murray said.
“We basically have to do that because as a lease-holder on the site at Frankton rail yard we’re obliged to make good on the property and we had no legal recourse not to. While the subtenant is obliged back to us it’s pretty clear they’re not able to do it.”
Fire Service fire risk management officer Peter Hallett said the tyres were a potential fire hazard and prompted the fire service to do “significant operational pre-planning”.
Extra foam supplies had been brought into the city to combat a potential blaze at the site.
“If there was a fire there it would stretch our resources potentially for a number of days, if not longer,” Hallett said.
“Tyres are notoriously difficult to put out, they form their own little carcass, and each tyre can have the equivalent of four to eight litres of petroleum-based product in it and that will help to sustain it.”
Hallett said the fire service had been given assurances the tyres were stored securely.
Contractors will start removing the tyres on Monday and expect to clear the site within three weeks.
Murray declined to confirm reports a council staff member had resigned over the affair.
“To be honest this whole drama has been unfortunate from woe to go and we have taken it pretty hard that this has happened and we take it as a serious issue,” he said.
“Needless to say it hasn’t been a good experience for any of us involved. We will never, ever lease to a recycle tyre company again, ever.”
Council will pursue costs from Pacific Foods and Products Distribution NZ.
Tyres are slow to break down but over time can discharge harmful contaminants into the environment.
The process is accelerated when tyres are immersed or exposed to water.
The Waikato Regional Plan prohibits the burning of tyres.
Patrick Lynch, Waikato Regional Council’s investigations and incident response manager, said the council’s greatest concern was the fire risk associated with tyre stockpiles.
The smoke plume from burning tyres was highly toxic, Lynch said.
“When tyres burn not only do you have smoke plumes going into the air but the tyres burn down into a liquid oily mass which then becomes a contaminant issue to land and potentially water courses.”