Flaming Tire Pile Just North of the Steel Bridge Lacked Necessary Permit, DEQ Says

Before the conflagration, DEQ had said the pile was fine.

A tire-pile fire next to Steel Bridge last month. (KATU-TV)

Owners of the three-story pile of shredded tires that caught fire next to the Moda Center last month violated Oregon law by storing too much “tire derived product” at the site, inspectors from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality determined this month.

Inspectors plan to refer the matter to DEQ’s enforcement division, which may assess a penalty for each day in violation. That could get expensive because the tire shreds have been piled up beside the old Louis Dreyfus grain terminal on the Willamette River for months at a time.

“DEQ’s May 31 inspection revealed that Castle Arden 1 LLC and Castle Tire Disposal LLC are operating without a Waste Tire Storage Site permit at 900 North Thunderbird Way,” DEQ said in a June 8 letter. “During the inspection DEQ observed large amounts of tire derived product.”

The two LLCs that own the terminal are controlled by Beau Blixseth, whose father, Tim, used his Roseburg timber fortune to start the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club near Bozeman, Mont., and by Chandos Mahon, who owns Castle Tire Recycling, which has a tire-processing plant in North Portland. Mahon and Blixseth ship the tire shreds by cargo ship to Asia, where they are burned for fuel.

Issuing the pre-enforcement notice, as its known, is a reversal for DEQ. The agency inspected the site last summer and found no violations. Nor were the tire shreds considered waste at the time.

“Once processed, DEQ considers the shredded tires to be product,” DEQ spokesperson Susan Mills wrote to WW in July. “Since product moves (is transported/sold), it does not require a waste permit, so one is not required at the grain elevator site.”

Since Mills wrote that email, the tire pile has burst into flames at least three times starting on May 25, spewing acrid smoke and disrupting road and rail traffic. Fire crews doused the pile with water after the first conflagration, but the internal heat stayed high enough to reignite the pile days later.

Mahon says the tire pile is in compliance with state law, despite the referral to enforcement.

“With prior DEQ inspections we were in compliance, and we believe we continue to be in compliance,” Mahon said in an email. “We are currently working with the DEQ to quickly resolve any compliance concerns.”

DEQ may have acted this time because the shred pile was larger than it was on their previous visits. The pile ebbs and flows as ships arrive. The DEQ letter quotes Oregon law, which says that a person who stores fewer than 200 cubic yards of tire-derived products is exempt from the state requirement to obtain a waste tire permit.

A DEQ spokesman didn’t immediately return an email asking if the size of the pile changed their view.

On their most recent visit to the grain terminal, on May 31, DEQ inspectors estimated that Blixseth and Mahon were storing about 3,000 cubic yards of tire shreds at the facility. The large pile on the east side of the terminal—the one that caught fire—contained about 2,222 cubic yards, DEQ inspectors wrote.

While there, inspectors met with employee Chris Culp, who told them that ships arrived every three months to get the shreds. The one scheduled for July has been delayed because of the fire, Culp told inspectors. Worse yet, equipment used to load the shreds onto vessels had been vandalized and wasn’t working, he said.

“Chris stated that there have been frequent occurrences of trespassing and vandalism to equipment and buildings on this site,” the report says. DEQ pictures show a conveyor belt with its wiring cut.

Last month, Mahon blamed the fires on vandalism. Asked for evidence, he didn’t provide any. At the time, the Portland Fire Bureau said the cause was under investigation.

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