Land filled with old tires along S.R. 224 in Atwater and Deerfield may return to open fields in a year or so. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has started the clock on a cleanup of two dumps holding more than 2 million tires. The OEPA sent letters Jan. 8 to "responsible parties" such as property owners and tenants of several tire dumps in Ohio, giving them 120 days to clean up the tires or the state would take action. "If that doesn't happen, then we have the power under state law to hire a contractor" to do the clean up, said Carolyn Watkins, section manager in the OEPA's division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management. Then the state would seek to recover the cost through civil court action to put a lien on the property. A state survey in late 1996 estimated the McMaster site, in the shadow of BFI Willowcreek landfill on the southwest corner of State Routes 224 and 225, holds at least 1.13 million tires. The second site, on Alliance Road north of S.R. 225, is just east of the Atwater line in Deerfield. The state estimated there are at least 1.12 million in that pile. Watkins cautioned that three other sites in the state ranked higher than Portage's dumps. If other cleanups cost more, or one of the other dumps has a large fire that burns up cleanup funds, the start on Portage County could be delayed. "If everything goes as we anticipate, we would expect to put out a request for bids in October," she said, and would hope the contractor could start work as early as February, 1999. What happens to the tires depends on the contractor. A 50 cents-a-tire tax on new tires at the wholesale level is funding the state's cleanup. The legislation allowing the tax ends in 2000 and would need reapproval by the Legislature to continue the cleanups. The OEPA estimated in 1996 there were at least 36 sites in Ohio with more than 30,000 tires each. Kyle Loudin, a former township trustee in the forefront of environmental cleanup efforts for Atwater, applauded the news. "We waited a long time on it. But we do appreciate the EPA taking some action," he said. Loudin complimented the efforts of the Portage County Solid Waste Management District, the citizens of Atwater "for putting pressure on the EPA," and the county commissioners. "I'd like to thank them all for it," he said. Portage County Commissioner Chris Smeiles was wary of celebrating too soon. "Commissioners have been trying to draw attention to and get action on the two mountains of tires for many years. So, of course we're pleased to hear of their initiative. However, the proof will be in the pudding. I'll get out the champagne when the last tire is removed," Smeiles said. "This is the best news we've had yet in our efforts to have something done." "It's great news," said Commissioner Chuck Keiper. "I think it's news that will be welcome by all the folks that live around there who worry about the health implications of the tire dump and we welcome the EPA making a positive step in Portage County. On the caution side, we don't want to get our hopes up too high. We've been promised things before that haven't panned out. It is overdue and highly welcome news."