VICTORIA’S Environmental Protection Authority has described its cleanup and removal efforts at Stawell Tyre Yard as a marathon rather than a sprint.
The site on the western side of Stawell holds an estimated nine million tyres and last week the deadline for the owners to act on fire hazard notifications expired.
For the first time in its history, the EPA used specific clauses in legislation to take full control of a site.
One week later, the site has two new large polyethylene tanks to hold water for the multiple fire fighting trucks that have been placed on standby.
New drainage channels are being built and an erosion management plan will be put into place for the bare ground left behind when the tyres are removed.
Portable pumps are being used continuously at the site to remove water that has built up underneath the tyre piles.
Security guards now patrol temporary fences and the EPA has set up a time-lapse camera to document the cleanup’s progress.
One EPA worker described the seized tyre yard as a miniature army base with temporary site offices being shipped to the site.
EPA Stawell tyre intervention project manager Danny Childs said the operation would prove to be expensive but vastly cheaper than dealing with a massive tyre fire, which would have catastrophic impacts on the surrounding environment, economy and community.
“At this stage the project is progressing well and as planned,” Mr Childs said.
“We have removed 550 tonnes of tyres as of Tuesday.
“They have been taken to Somerton in Melbourne to be processed by Tyrecycle.”
Tyrecycle’s plant can process 10.5 million tyres per year.
Between 100 to 150 tonnes of tyres from Stawell have been shredded and processed so far.
Mr Childs said there was a bit of a lag between the tyres arriving in Melbourne and processing because of the condition of the Stawell tyres.
“The tyres are very dirty,” he said.
“When the tyres arrive in Somerton, they are having to be manually cleaned using high-pressure water and sorted into passenger tyres versus truck tyres.”
If a rock were to be left inside a tyre it could damage the shredding machine.
The different types of tyres will go through their own recycling processes.
“The truck tyres will be used for road construction, putting them in the asphalting component, for running tracks and playgrounds, and also for tiling adhesive to add flexibility to grout.
“The care tyres are shredded and used as tyre derived fuel and the fuel is used in things like power plants or kilns.”
THE tyre yard intervention project has not only drawn on Melbourne companies for help but has employed a lot of Stawell region businesses as well.
Mr Childs said the EPA has hired Grampians Excavations to build an earthen ‘working stage’ to elevate removal machinery above the tyre pile.
“It will allow trucks to be loaded using excavators,” he said.
“We’re using local contractors, local catering mobs, accommodation fencing contractors, the list goes on when it comes to getting the locals employed as much as we can.”
The tyre yard has sat mostly idle for the past decade, with more and more Stawell residents objecting to the situation as the years went by.
The saga took a bizarre turn this month when it emerged that the site’s owner, Used Tyre Recycling Corporation, had ‘gifted’ the property to a mysterious company registered in Panama, which then tried and failed to get a Supreme Court injunction against the EPA.
Mr Childs said the EPA has used some of its powers for the first time to start removing the tyres.
“EPA used the powers under section 55 and 62 of the Environmental Protection Act to access and take control of the site in order to clean up and reduce the very high fire risk that was imposed on the community,” he said.
“If the tyres were to go up in flames, it would have huge impacts on society, the economy and the environment.
“It would be catastrophic. There has been a lot of work on emergency management and emergency plans have been fully developed for the site.
“This has been an unacceptable risk to the Stawell community for far too long now, and that’s part of the reason the EPA has taken action.”
Mr Childs estimated that it would take another 12 to 18 weeks to complete the project.
“We’re currently working Monday to Saturday in the hours from 6.45am to 6pm,” he said.
“It really depends on the weather, what we find in the stockpile itself, and on how quickly we can process them. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”