End may be in sight for mound of used tires in South Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An end could be near in the tire saga resulting from the botched tire redemption program sponsored by Memphis and Shelby County.

About 50,000 tires are still sitting in a lot off Florida Street from the program that took place in January. Mary Jane Eason, whose apartment window overlooks the tire pile, said she’s tired of seeing it.

“It makes it look horrible,” Eason said.

Back in January, the city and county sponsored the tire redemption program that paid people for old tires in an effort to clean up blight. They hired a company called Liberty Tire to take care of the work, but the day before, city officials said Liberty dropped out.

The state gave Memphis permission to hire a new group, Refurban, on short notice and without a contract.

“I got a phone call, there was an emergency, and they needed a favor,” Refurban owner Devin James said.

James said about 20,000 of the tires are the city’s, and about 30,000 of them came from the county.

James testified Thursday on a witness stand because Refurban is now being sued for illegally dumping the tires. As it turns out, Reburban doesn’t own the land where they put the tires, and then they just left them there.

“I do not think we knew that,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said. “Obviously, if we’d known that, we wouldn’t have done it.”

City officials also said they thought Refurban would recycle the tires, but James said he only planned to store them. And because the city never had a contract, it’s unclear who’s responsible now.

That does not matter to Eason.

“I do hope soon they move them,” she said.

Strickland said moving the tires is exactly what the city plans to do, as soon as it can get permission from the group Shraddha Saburi Samidha, which owns the land. Per the lawsuit, there’s a restraining order on the plot of land.

Strickland said they’re back working with their original partners, Liberty Tire, to recycle all the tires, but it will cost the city an additional $20,000.

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