With DOC partnership, Sussex County masters tire eye sore near Georgetown

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County’s partnership with the Department of Corrections paved the way for recent removal of upward of 160 tons of scrap tires that stood as a landscape eyesore north of Georgetown – one of Michael Costello’s immediate priorities as County Chief Constable.
With manpower provided by Delaware Department of Corrections’ inmate work program, an estimated 17,000 abandoned tires stockpiled at the former Master Tire property along U.S. 113 were loaded by prisoners and transported to a tires-for-energy facility in Pennsylvania in November and December.

“It has been there for a number of years,” said Mr. Costello, hired as Chief Constable last summer. “I took it on as one of our first projects. We had a lot of assistance through the Delaware Department of Corrections Sussex Community facility. They partnered with us and they provided us with the resources to actually get this done.”
Shipping costs totaled close to $14,000. Free labor was provided by Department of Corrections’ inmates.
According to County Administrator Todd Lawson, removal of the tires was a long and tedious process.
“There is a lot of work that went into the Master Tire property issue,” Mr. Lawson said.

“Working with Mike (Costello) as a new constable to tackle this issue, where folks are driving by literally thousands of tires every day and asking who can help, and the government is pointing the finger at one entity and that entity is pointing it back at the government. And we were lost. We took a lot of time and effort to finally engage the owner of the property – the ownership is actually an LLC out of Maryland – it took quite some time to reach an agreement to access the property.”

Ultimately, an agreement was reached with the property owner to place $10,000 in an escrow account to cover tire shipment, which exceeded that amount by several thousand dollars.

“We initially thought it would take under 10 loads to get it to disposal site. As you can see it took 17 to 18 loads,” Mr. Lawson said. “We’ve since even gone over the $10,000 in escrow. These negotiations are difficult. Trying to get an owner to step up to their obligation is difficult. And in this case we are waiting for additional $3,000 from this LLC to pay for this project, which the county administered on their own. We got free labor to do it. I will tell you the original estimate was $25,000 to be done with the private sector, including the labor, and once we got into the tires it would probably be close to $50,000 – if a company were to come in and do it all with their labor.”

The County has billed the property owner for the remaining shipment cost.

“We’re waiting for additional money,” said Mr. Lawson. “If we don’t get the payment and we don’t get a response from their local attorney, we’re going to assess a lien on the property.”

“Interestingly enough with this property, it’s on a great location on the highway, zoned commercial,” Mr. Lawson said. “We just improved the property value so that it can be sold, and I am told there is a pending contract on the property. Yet the county is waiting over 30 days to get their final payment.”

It was suggested by Council that a lien be placed on the property ASAP – before it goes to settlement.
“We’ve already had that discussion,” Mr. Lawson said.

Tires began piling up when the site was a service station – operated as a rental property. That business abandoned the site and set up shop in another location, Mr. Costello said.

“At that time and still current today, nobody regulates scrap tires. You don’t need a permit to haul them. You don’t need a permit to store them. You don’t need anything,” said Mr. Costello. “And it was allowed to run amok; it became a problem and all of a sudden the fight was abandoned.”

“Bottom line is I got tired of waiting,” said Mr. Lawson. “I knew we were getting pressure from the five members of council, pressure from the community, from the elected officials of Georgetown, to help. We’re the only ones that could help – and hats off to Mr. Costello and also the Department of Corrections.”

At one point an attempt was made to have a dual agreement with the County and DNREC (Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control) “because DNREC had an interest in the outcome of this project,” Mr. Lawson said. “Because red tape got in the way we let DNREC to the sidelines and we continued on and gained access to the property. And then with Mike’s work we were able to get free labor from the Department of Corrections to clear this property. We couldn’t have done that without that.”

Ronnie Johnson is grateful the tires have been removed.

In a letter to Mr. Lawson, Mr. Johnson expressed “appreciation to Sussex County Government for the tire removal, north of Georgetown. I respectfully would like to thank Mike Costello and Ira Hitchens for spearheading the removal. As a member of the First Baptist Church across the street, the tires were always an eye sore and bothersome. After contacting several agencies and never seeing the issue addressed … it was greatly appreciated when the County stepped in and took care of the problem.”

“Projects such as this which require actions on the County’s behalf, we have got to partner with players in our community,” said Mr. Costello. “And the Sussex County Community Corrections facility was very, very instrumental in partnering with us. Other than that we would not have been able to get that done.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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