Old tire complaint rolls over Langley mayor

Old tires in a blackberry patch on city property are raising a fuss among some city residents. They’re located in the greenbelt between the middle school and Suzanne Court.

A kerfuffle over a cache of old tires on Langley city property has Mayor Fred McCarthy scrambling for answers, though it may be more than one year too late.

A seething John Norby crashed the city council’s regular meeting Monday, demanding to know why McCarthy and his staff hadn’t removed the tires more than 14 months ago when Norby first brought the dump site to their attention. Norby cited a slew of concerns, from possible environmental and drinking water contamination problems to a mosquito breeding ground.

“Nothing’s been done about it,” said Norby, who produced a piece of old tire from a brown paper bag and held it up for emphasis.

“This is shameful,” he added.

Norby gave the city a week to clean up the site or threatened to bring the “lawyers” in.

A clearly surprised McCarthy, now facing a concerned city council, said Norby had just been to city hall and asked why he didn’t mention the concerns then. Norby responded by saying he shouldn’t have had to, that he’d informed the mayor about the problem more than a year ago and then abruptly left the council chambers.

In a later interview on Friday, McCarthy said he thought the surprise attack was unfair and incorrectly made it seem as if the city had been dragging its feet. He claimed that was not the case.

The offending tires are located in the Brookhaven Creek drainage area in the greenbelt between Langley Middle School and homes on Suzanne Court. They’re a stone’s throw from Norby’s backyard and Langley’s well head.

Worried about possible environmental impacts, Norby says he picked up about 125 of the tires in early 2014, February or March. He alerted the city and was subsequently supplied with a flatbed trailer and loaded them up. He was later given an official thank you from McCarthy for the service to the city.

According to Norby, a pile of tires about 20 feet long and 4 feet wide remains at the site.

What’s happened since then, however, is a matter of dispute.  McCarthy says he considered the matter closed after the initial clean up. He said he was aware more tires were still out there, but not to the extent that Norby claims. He boiled down the issue as a case where a citizen volunteered to do the city a service, and that was the end of it.

“It’s not like he’s been telling us all along of this big problem and we’ve been ignoring him,” McCarthy said. “I was totally surprised when he blasted us like that.”

But according to Norby, that’s exactly what happened. He regularly visits with McCarthy at city hall and says he reminded the mayor about the rest of the tires this past fall and spring. He said the mayor even told him to speak with Public Works Director Stan Berryman about the problem.  Berryman confirmed in a Friday interview with The Record that he did speak with Norby in recent months, but that the issue didn’t seem pressing.

“It didn’t appear to be a major priority at the time but it’s certainly something that needs to be addressed,” Berryman said.

Also unclear is just how many tires are on site. They’re located within a large blackberry patch, which makes it difficult to accurately determine just how many are there. Berryman said he looked at the site this week and couldn’t even find it.

Environmentalist Marianne Edain, a founding member of Whidbey Environmental Action Network, said the only way to know for sure is to knock down the brush and remove the tires. Old tires can leach dangerous pollutants, such as heavy metals, into the ground as they degrade.

“Big time,” she said.

Edain says the number of tires is largely irrelevant — they’re toxic and simply need to be removed. She also wants the city to perform soil testing and take corrective steps if necessary.

She noted that their location is either within or very close to a well-head protection area, which are in place to ensure the protection of public water supplies.

McCarthy said he directed Berryman to answer a dozen questions about the issue, everything from the number of tires at the site and the cost of removal to how they got there in the first place, what testing has been or needs to be done and the ramifications if they are indeed within the protection area. He added that the tires are downhill from the wells.

“In my opinion, it’s not jeopardizing the water supply,” McCarthy said.

And while the tires are thought to have been there for decades, if the city learns who dumped them there it may take action against the responsible party.

Berry is expected to provide those answers at the city council’s next meeting, June 15. The public works director said, however, that the tires might be gone by then. He’s hoping to remove them as soon as next week.

While that’s the desired outcome of all, Edain issued a stern admonishment to city leaders, saying this has become a bigger issue than it needs to be. The clean up will be easy, and it and corrective measures should have been done when it was first pointed out.

“Diddling and twiddling for more than a year doesn’t look responsible,” Edain said.