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Tires-to-tomatoes plan fizzles


A long-troubled plan to grow tomatoes in large greenhouses, heated by burning tires, has been officially snuffed out.

The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners this week voted 4-0 to deny RipeTouch Greenhouses of Castle Rock any more time to meet the conditions of a 1996 permit that allowed the company to collect and recycle tires at its 200-acre site near Calhan.

The company had appealed an earlier decision by county planning staff to deny an extension to the 2-year-old permit, because key environmental, traffic and fire safety conditions of the permit had not been met.

"It's a relief," Delmer Manyik, who lives next to the proposed RipeTouch facility, said of the vote. "Why prolong the agony?"

Manyik has long opposed the tires-to-tomatoes plan, fearing a tire-burning facility would send acrid-smelling smoke over his property.

While this week's vote extinguishes those worries, it doesn't solve another problem that Manyik long ago predicted would face county officials when they first approved the project: what to do with the roughly 1.2 million tires now stored at the RipeTouch compound.

Tire dumps are a hazard, because lightning can ignite unstoppable tire fires, while tire piles also serve as home for vermin and insect pests.

But the county commissioners' vote does mean that the company is technically in violation of state solid-waste laws, which require scrap-tire recycling facilities to get permits, called certificates of designation, from county officials.

County officials say they intend to pursue enforcement actions that would force RipeTouch to clean up the site. But county planner Mark Gebhart said the company will be given time to get the tires off the site. "This is not your usual situation; it's going to take some time to remove those tires," said Gebhart.

RipeTouch has begun hauling some of the tires that have already been shredded to a county landfill east of Peterson Air Force Base. But company President Stan Abrams has said he's not going to worry about most of the tires at the RipeTouch facility.

Rather, Abrams maintains the tires belong to his ex-partner in the project, Dave Mehring, who owns land next to the RipeTouch site where many of the tires were once stored.

"RipeTouch accepted responsibility for those tires several years ago," said Mehring, who is president of one of the state's largest tire-hauling companies, the Tire Broker.

"[Abrams] paid a contractor to move most of the tires off my property," he said.

In the meantime, it's unclear what the future holds for the beleaguered greenhouse deal. Abrams maintains he still intends to build a greenhouse at the site, which would be heated by tire-derived fuel.

This summer, Abrams even sent out several press releases saying that his company had signed a deal to import about 7 million more shredded tires from Texas to the Calhan site. The release perplexed county planners, who had already pulled the permit that allowed Abrams to store tires at the site.

"It kind of makes you wonder," said Gebhart, adding that the county will not let Abrams bring still more tires to RipeTouch's already overloaded property on Highway 24.

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