Environment

The Liberty Tire recycling center in Southwest Jefferson County was the site of a massive tire fire in November that prompted a 36-hour shelter-in-place for those who live within a mile of the building on Bohannon Avenue.

Now, the recycling facility in Southwest Louisville is vacant.

And in addition to violating state regulations on tire storage, Liberty Tire was operating a tire recycling business on property that the city says wasn’t zoned for tire recycling.

Liberty TireJ. Tyler Franklin/Louisville Public Media

The center closed sometime at the end of July.

When WFPL visited last week, the building was eerily empty. The fence was open, and trucks bearing the Liberty Tire logo sat in a row. Uniforms still hung along one wall, and a soda machine hummed. There were piles of dirt on the floor, waiting to be swept up. There was only one employee there: Thomas Esters, who said he’ll be cleaning up for the next week or so.

Outside, there was no sign of tires. On Nov. 3, 2014, regulators estimated more than 1.1 million tires were on site, though the facility was only permitted to have the equivalent of 100,000. A fire started as a state inspector was en route to check whether the company had complied with an earlier Notice of Violation that the tires were stored improperly.

Liberty TireJ. Tyler Franklin/Louisville Public Media

According to documents from Louisville Metro Planning and Zoning, two days after the tire fire, city officials notified Liberty Tire that there were issues with the property’s zoning. The 34-acre site was zoned M-2 for industrial use. But city officials said that operating the recycling center outdoors required an M-3 zoning, as well as a conditional use permit. Liberty Tire appealed that finding in December, but the case is still classified as open.

Liberty TireJ. Tyler Franklin/Louisville Public Media

Liberty also currently holds a contract with the state for Kentucky’s tire amnesty program, which allows residents to get rid of tires for free.

Tony Hatton of the Kentucky Division of Waste Management said the requirements of Liberty’s state contract haven’t changed, but he expects they’ll just process the tires at one of the company’s other two Kentucky locations, in Marion and Sturgis.

Liberty Tire representatives could not be reached for comment.

Hatton said Liberty is on track to fulfill its environmental obligations to the state. As part of an agreement reached after the fire, the company is responsible for developing a plan for testing the site as well as conducting the actual testing. After that, the state can determine whether remediation is necessary.

The Division of Waste Management is waiting for Liberty to provide the plan so regulators can determine how to proceed, Hatton said.