WSP, IGH tired of mass tire dumping


Residents at a condo building on the 5400 block of Babcock Trail awoke to find this pile of tires Feb. 8. (Luke Reiter/Review)

Santa Claus brings presents. The Easter Bunny hides eggs. The Tooth Fairy leaves cash rewards for lost teeth. So who’s responsible for surprising people with used tires?

That question has plagued police investigators in West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights for nearly a month now. In the past several weeks several multi-unit housing complexes have reported mysterious piles of old tires that seem to spring up overnight. Where the tires are coming from -- and why someone feels the need to share them --remains unknown.

Stockpiles of steel-belted radials

While the prospect may seem absurd, the tire piles are no joke to Brandi Rienecker, an assistant manager at Pearlwood Estates on 52nd Street in Inver Grove Heights. Rienecker was on duty at the apartment building the morning of Feb. 7 when a member of the maintenance staff came into the office to report that someone had dumped tires on the ground -- an unremarkable fact, until he told her there were around 60 of them.

“In the past, (we) have had a few tires dumped, but never this many,” Rienecker said.

When the maintenance crew moved the tires to an empty garage unit to get them out of the way, they learned that there were closer to 100. Besides making extra work for the crew, Rienecker quickly learned that the higher number would translate to a higher cost as well, since most outlets that handle tire disposal charge per tire.

“It just became a headache, and a huge expense for us,” Rienecker said.

According to Lt. Sean Folmar, of the Inver Grove Heights Police Department, Rienecker’s lament has been true for all the recipients.

“Whoever they (the culprit) chose to be their victim is now going to be susceptible to paying to get them disposed properly,” Folmar said.

Whoever is doing the dumping, Folmar said they’ve been careful to avoid detection, working at night and choosing areas that aren’t covered by surveillance cameras. And while each crime involves plenty of evidence -- generally around 50 tires per incident -- Folmar said there’s not much for investigators to go on, since tires don’t have serial numbers or other identifying marks that would allow them to be tracked.

More lucrative than turning them into swings

However careful the culprits have been, Lt. Brian Sturgeon of West St. Paul Police said there has been one break: several witnesses have spotted a U-Haul trailer hitched to an unknown vehicle near the dumping locations. Sturgeon said recently reports of the U-Haul fleeing tire dumps have come from as New Brighton, Mounds View and St. Anthony.

“Whether or not they’re related, I don’t know,” Sturgeon said. “But there are similarities.”

Sturgeon also suggested the inspiration for this rash of crimes might be tied to the most annoying element for Rienecker and other victims: tires are costly to get rid of. Sturgeon said this is especially true for businesses such as auto body shops, which regularly have tires piling up and have to pay a sizable amount each time they want them cleaned out. But what if there was someone who offered to charge much less?

“We’re thinking these people are some fly-by-night outfit who say, ‘Hey, we’ll take your tires for a buck each instead of two or three bucks,” Sturgeon explained.

The reason reputable places charge to collect tires is to cover the cost of recycling. But unscrupulous entrepreneurs could undercut the legitimate collection services if they dodged the overhead costs: namely, disposing of tires legally instead of in the dark of night.

Where the rubber meets the road

That explanation seemed accurate to Laura Villa, a senior environmental specialist with Dakota County. Villa said tires are a perennial subject of littering complaints because Minnesota state statute bans them from landfills and recycling costs money -- $5 per tire at Dakota County’s Recycling Zone in Eagan, and more for unusually large tires.

“Anytime you charge for anything you almost incentivize someone into doing the wrong thing with it,” Villa said.

While Villa is no stranger to complaints of tire dumping, she said she’d never of heard of incidents so large and so regular.

“My guess is that they are charging (to collect), and they’re charging under what the rest of the market would and then not covering the proper disposal costs,” Villa said.

The key to solving this case, according to Sturgeon, is watchful residents. Without useful evidence in the tires themselves, police will have to rely on help from the public to catch the culprits in the act. Once caught, Sturgeon said the suspects could potentially face felony-level charges based on the aggregated cost of their crimes to victims, but he said there’s a necessary evil to face before that can happen: “Unfortunately, we’re hoping they keep doing it so we can catch ‘em,” he said.

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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