Stawell tyre dump sold to Panama internet marketing company

An aerial shot from 2014 of the Stawell tyre dump, which holds around 9 million tyres.  Photo: Boomerang Alliance
An aerial shot from 2014 of the Stawell tyre dump, which holds around 9 million tyres. Photo: Boomerang Alliance

A shadowy offshore internet marketing company based in the tax haven of Panama now has control of a toxic dump of 9 million used tyres considered a huge fire risk in the state's west.

The notorious Stawell tyre stockpile, one of the world's biggest, has largely sat dormant for nearly a decade, despite major environmental concerns and repeated orders for it to be cleaned up.

Anger in the community has reached boiling point, as repeated inaction finally led the Environment Protection Authority last week to declare it would take charge of the dump unless the fire danger was reduced. If fully ignited, it could burn for months.

The previous owner had promised residents that it would rid the country town of the dangerous mass of rubber using a controversial recycling process known as pyrolysis, which involves breaking down the tyres at high temperatures.

However that plan has not reached fruition and with the threat of action looming, Fairfax Media can reveal that ownership of the site has been transferred in recent months to an overseas company known as "Internet Marketing Solutions Corp".

From Stawell to Panama

A title search shows the transfer of the Saleyards Road property by the previous owner Used Tyre Recycling Corporation was completed on June 8.

No ACN or Australian address is listed for Internet Marketing Solutions Corp on the land title. The company is based in the central American country of Panama.

Panama company records show Internet Marketing Solutions Corp was registered in 2010 as a "sociedad anonima" or anonymous society, a form of private corporation which protects the identity of shareholders.

Directors listed on the company's documents are linked to hundreds of other entities in Panama.

The sole director of the Used Tyre Recycling Corporation, Matthew Starr, said he was not connected with Internet Marketing Solutions Corp in any way and had completed the deal in New York City earlier this year.

Internet Marketing Solutions Corp bought the dump because they wanted to focus on developing rubber-based products, he said.

"I have never been to Panama and can't speak or understand any Spanish," he said.

It appears no money changed hands. On the land title, the property was transferred as a "desire to make a gift".

Dr Starr said the deal was backended, with an agreement that his company would recycle Internet Marketing Solutions Corp's tyres at a plant still planned for a neighbouring property.

The skyline of Panama City in Panama. Photo: Susana Gonzalez

The skyline of Panama City in Panama. Photo: Susana Gonzalez

'They don't care'

Stawell resident Allan Cooper, 65, said the community had been worried about the tyre stockpile for at least 10 years, after the site's then-owner Motorway went bust in 2008.

He lives on Longfield Street, about one kilometre away from the dump, and had major concerns about the possibility of the town being blanketed with toxic smoke if it were to go up in flames.

"If it started the whole town would be polluted with smoke," he said. "There's no way known you could get everybody out that quickly and it won't take long to start up once it goes."

Mr Cooper said the town was sick of the buckpassing that had taken place in recent years between the owners, the EPA, local council and state government, and just wanted something done.

"If it was in Melton, closer to Melbourne, they'd be doing something about," he said. "They would have that much money poking at it. But they don't care."

Environmental groups have previously described the dump as a "Hazelwood waiting to happen". The CFA has assessed the site as a "very high fire" risk, with the potential for catastrophic consequences for the town of Stawell.

Panama company records for Internet Marketing Solutions Corp.

Panama company records for Internet Marketing Solutions Corp.

Nine million tyres

Environmental group Boomerang Alliance, which has advocated for stricter controls on tyre dumping, estimated there were 9 million tyres in the stockpile.

"Every year it stays there, the greater the chance of a massive fire," said Boomerang Alliance director Jeff Angel.

Lax regulation had allowed the stockpile to grow, he said, as unscrupulous collectors undercut legitimate recyclers with lower rates and then dumped the tyres without fear of reprisal.

He said the problem was improving as state governments tightened their laws, while major tyre brands also had begun sending their used tyres to genuine recyclers.

"However, we've got this enormous legacy problem at Stawell," he said.

EPA chief executive Nial Finegan said there was a long history with Used Tyre Recycling Corporation trying to get them to comply with various notices.

The EPA would seek to recover costs from the owners if it had to take control of the dump and reduce the risk, he said. The current owners have until Wednesday to explain why the EPA shouldn't take charge.

"If the Environment Protection Authority is stepping in there is a real risk to the community," he said.

Dr Starr said his company had stopped owning the dump on March 30, before the EPA had slapped the tyre yard with three statutory demands.

Any delays were caused by documentation having to be translated between Spanish and English and then approved, he said.

The company had previously tried to get a permit for a pyrolysis tyre recycling plant but claimed to be slowed down by red tape.

Dr Starr said the company had spent large amounts of money and had improved the site substantially since taking over in 2015.

"It appears that the EPA are overreacting at Stawell given the recent paper recycling dump fire in Coolaroo that took weeks to put out," he said.