(WXYZ) DETROIT - What happened in northwest Detroit is part of a much larger picture; it's one of the top three blight problems in our city.
The man at the center of it all is Henry Ross the CEO of Beal's Rubber Recycling. Henry is his name and tires are his game. The problem is Ross didn't recycle squat for months.
He left a huge mess in northwest Detroit; a massive pile of used tires stacked twelve feet high. They were supposed to be recycled, but Ross dumped them on a large piece of industrial property.
There are at least 52 thousand tires dumped at the location according to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
When 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis confronted Ross with the camera rolling, he claimed he had a buyer for the scrap tires.
"I wanted to ask you about the tires you dumped up on Lyndon," Lewis said.
"Tires?" Ross asked.
"Yea," Lewis replied.
"Man get out of my face with that," Ross said.
"Well, tell me, why did you dump all those tires up there?" Lewis asked.
"Because I'm selling them man," Ross replied.
"Selling them to who?" Lewis asked.
"I got a couple of buyers," Ross replied.
"Where?" Lewis asked.
"I don't have to tell you that. I've got a couple of buyers I'm selling my tires to," Ross said.
The truth is there are no buyers. Scrap tires have no value. In fact, someone will have to pay to clean up that mountain of rubber carcasses on Lyndon Avenue.
To understand how Ross played the system, you have to know what is supposed to happen to used tires.
When you have new tires put on your car, the state has a system for tracking and recycling the old ones. Retailers turn over your used tires to a tire hauler that is registered with the Department of Environmental Quality. The retailer pays the hauler about $1.25 per tire. The hauler takes the tires to a recycler and pays them roughly $1.00 to take each tire for shredding. The shredded rubber is then sold and re-used for everything from playground mulch to floor mats.
"You know, trying to put our efforts into finding beneficial re-uses for scrap tires because if this can become a resource instead of a waste we're a lot less likely to see this happen on our vacant lots in Detroit," said Tracy Kecskemeti, a supervisor with the DEQ.
As used tires move from the retailer to the hauler to the recycler, every step is documented on a manifest, so the state has a record of where every used tire goes.
But in the case of Henry Ross, who was a registered hauler, things went sideways. Ross was charging retailers only 80 cents per tire. Experts say at that price there would be no profit for Ross to take them to a shredder.
Ross leased the Lyndon property last May, telling the owner, who lives in Florida, that he was opening his own recycling business. Instead he just piled the tires up on the property and walked away.
And to this day, the owner says, Henry Ross has not paid a dime in rent.
"Unfortunately, I have MS, and my total income comes from Social Security disability. This was really my only other avenue for income to support me," said Joe Cross, the property owner.
When the DEQ discovered Ross was stockpiling tires instead of recycling, they starting taking pictures and writing violation notices.
Records show Ross made a lot of promises and gave a lot of excuses, but the tires continued to pile up.
As pressure mounted, Ross told the DEQ he was paying a certified recycler to pick up the tires and take them to be shredded.
"I think he paid me one time and then I took seven loads that I didn't get paid for," said Alan Huffman the tire recycler hired by Ross.
Huffman said he stopped taking tires from Ross.
"Do you think he had any intention of recycling tires in that building? " asked Scott Lewis.
" No," Huffman replied.
Cross, the property owner, told 7 Action News he got the constant run-around from Ross.
"He was going to meet me to pay me, and then he was going to do this, and he was working on this, and then his mother died. I mean it's one story after the other. The same as he told the DEQ," said Cross.
And when 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis confronted Ross, he was still making promises.
"How are you going to get anyone to take them?" Lewis asked.
"I sold them bro," Ross replied.
"To who?" Lewis asked.
"I don't have to tell you that," Ross answered.
"Well why don't you? Then it would be the end of the story," Lewis said.
"Okay, you know what you do? Give me two months and they're gone," Ross promised.
But that big pile of tires on Lyndon Avenue begs the question; If Ross is licensed by the DEQ why did they wait so long to stop him?
"Sometimes people choose to not comply with the law and we have a process, we have their due process that they go through before we can put them
on notice and revoke their hauling registration," said Kecskemeti.
Henry Ross' tire pile is a big one, but it's just one of many in the City of Detroit. Vacant lots and buildings across the city are stuffed with used tires and it's tough to stop. There's a big incentive for tire retailers to cut corners.
Remember, it costs $1.25 to get rid of a tire legitimately.
"And it costs you fifty cents to get rid of a tire illegally, and you don't have anybody checking you. What are you going to do?" recycler Alan Huffman asked rhetorically.
The DEQ says big tire retailers play by the rules. The agency says it's the small operators that are responsible for most of the dumping.
"We have 300 tire stores in Detroit. And it's a lot to police," Kecskemeti said.
Another big problem; city and state officials say is that there are a lot of used tire shops in the city operating illegally, either unlicensed or in violation of zoning laws. Some don't even know the laws.
7 Action News recently tagged along with officials from the Detroit Buildings and Safety Department as they went out to close down two illegal tire shops and questioned workers about their knowledge of the law.
"Do you know what a manifest is?" asked Glenn Davis from the Department of Buildings and Safety.
"No, I don't," a tire shop employee replied.
Davis and his crew padlocked the tire shop and told the owner to come downtown for an explanation of what he would have to do to open a legal used tire shop.
As for Henry Ross, he's no longer a registered hauler. He allowed his registration to lapse, just as the state was moving in to revoke it. DEQ has also launched a criminal investigation.
Joe Cross says he has lost his income, his building has been stripped of its plumbing and electrical systems, and unpaid taxes are piling up. He's probably going to have to walk away, which is what Henry Ross did when he finally had enough of Scott Lewis' questions.
"Can you get out of my face with that camera?" Ross asked, pointing to the 7 Action News photographer.
"No he can't. We're in a public place." Lewis replied.
Lewis reminded Ross that besides the leaving a pile of tires behind, he also hurt a man who is suffering from a serious illness.
"Joe Cross never got a dime from you man," Lewis told Ross.
Ross walked away without responding.
As it stands now Joe Cross is responsible for the cleanup on his property, but he doesn't have the money, and if he walks away, it becomes the city's problem. Then the city will get a grant from the State to clean up the site, which means we all wind up paying for it.
State grants for tire cleanup come from a fund that every car owner pays into. Every time someone registers a car in Michigan they are assessed a $1.50 fee for the tire cleanup fund.