A car auction company plans to remove at least 2 million tires from a Southside property where they have sat for more than a decade, creating a fire hazard and breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The 36-acre site at 11150 Applewhite Rd. has been purchased by Dallas-based Copart, an international online vehicle auction company that owns the adjacent property at 11130 Applewhite Rd., the company announced in a news release. Copart plans to remove and safely dispose of the tires to make room to store more vehicles for its auctions.

“Copart is pleased to be part of the solution to the tire disposal site,” Copart CEO Jay Adair said in a prepared statement. “This is not just good business for Copart, it’s also good environmental stewardship. It’s the right thing to do.”

Copart closed on the purchase Dec. 21 and hired W&M Environmental Group to begin clearing the property of abandoned tires, Copart Associate General Counsel Randy Racine said. Under an agreement with state regulators, Copart has 300 days to clean up the site, he said.

The tires have been there since at least 2005, when they were abandoned by one-time owner Safe Tire Disposal, which later was sold to Eclipse Renewables, according to county records.

The long-running environmental and health issues at the site led to multiple state investigations and lawsuits by the state Attorney General’s office. Mosquitoes capable of carrying the Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases also have been trapped near the property, said Texas A&M University-San Antonio associate professor of biology Megan Wise de Valdez.

“It’s been a sore thing for the Southside for many years,” said Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti. Uresti said the long-unpaid taxes on the property put it on the County’s top 25 list for back taxes owed.

Copart has since paid $349,630 total in back taxes, plus $45,165 in current taxes for a total of $394,795, he said.

“We’re very excited to have received a full payment,” Uresti said.

The tire dump is among the state’s largest, said Maia Corbitt, a governmental consultant at Austin firm ?Booth, Ahrens, and Werkenthin who has done extensive research on tire dumping in Texas.

The largest such dump is located in Ector County near Odessa and holds about 6 million tires, she said. A fire that sparked there over the summer burned about 100,000 of them, causing plumes of black smoke to billow over the landscape, according to local media reports.

At these sites, cost is the most prohibitive factor in preventing a cleanup, Corbitt said.

“Tires are a zero-value, almost negative-value proposition,” she said. “It’s essentially trash. … In Texas, our end markets are limited to a few cement kilns, and cement kilns can only burn so many tires. It is a beyond expensive proposition.”

Local politicians, including Uresti’s brothers, State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), and State Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio), have spent years getting state agencies to respond to the tire dump.

“It’s going to be a major plus,” Uresti said, adding that Copart’s settling of back taxes and expanding its business will help the local economy.

Copart has been under contract to buy the property since July 2016, Racine said, adding that it wasn’t likely that any other entity would have been able to afford the cleanup.

“You can see the tires, but what you don’t really understand is how many tire units are there,” he said, noting most tires in useable condition already have been removed. 

With such an extensive cleanup ahead, Corbitt said that she is cautiously optimistic.

“Having bought the place and paid the back taxes does not clean up the landscape,” she said.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.