Anatomy of a victory:
Citizens stop siting of tire-melting plant

Checkmate January 18, 2004
Simona Vaclavikova, Columbus Area Director
Ohio Citizen Action

Background: all tire-melting documents, articles.

Ohio Citizen Action and residents of the South Side of Columbus won their campaign to prevent the siting of a giant tire-melting facility on January 6, 2004. The victory was the result of four months of a well-organized and well-researched campaign in the community.

A company called Universal Purifying Technology wanted to build the tire-melting facility at the site of Columbus' former trash-burning power plant, which had been closed for ten years. The new facility, which would have burned 8,000 tires per hour around the clock, could have posed major environmental hazards in a community which is already the most polluted in Franklin County.

The biggest danger from the facility would have been the formation of dioxins, the most toxic human-made pollutants. Although Ohio EPA had already granted a draft permit to the facility when residents found out about it in September 2003, the project was killed in January when members of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio voted to deny the lease to Universal Purifying Technology.

How did we do it?

  • When we learned in September 2003 that the Ohio EPA and local authorities apparently intended to site this facility, comment, we immediately began working with Buckeye Environmental Network and the neighbors on the South Side who had helped close the dangerous trash-burning plant a decade ago. We reached out to residents and helped organize a community group, Southwest Neighbors Protecting Our Environment. Members of the group divided up into committees to tackle important tasks such as church outreach, member relations, and media, sharing their progress at weekly meetings.

  • We did excellent research and contacted scientific experts to learn more about the tire-melting industry. We uncovered important background information on the shaky finances of the company and the unproven nature of the technology, none of which had been investigated by the regulatory agencies involved. Once we made the information public, the regulatory agencies were forced to hire their own experts to either refute or support the information.

  • We pressed every agency and public official whose approval was essential for the tire-melting project to go forward. These included the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, and the Columbus City Council. We needed only one agency to reject the plan while the tire-melting proponents needed approval from all of them.

  • In a four-month period, we collected 5,000 handwritten and sign-on letters to Michael Long, Director of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, Mayor Michael Coleman, and Columbus City Council members, and collected an additional 11,000 signatures on petitions opposing the project which residents presented to the Solid Waste Authority.

  • We established important alliances with the city and county’s health departments. Both health departments published a report supporting the community’s health concerns and questioning the safety of the proposed tire-melting technology.

  • We kept communication lines open and invited all the actors and agencies involved to the community meetings. Although the owner of Universal Purifying Technology, Jeff Troth, was keeping a low profile in the beginning, we happened to knock on his door with our door-to-door canvassing and invited him to community meetings.

  • We took advantage of the public meetings organized by the Ohio EPA to receive comments on the draft permit. We literally stole the meetings by taking the attention away from the Ohio EPA’s bureaucracy and putting the neighbors’ opposition and concerns in the center. Neighbors peppered officials with questions, displayed banners and posters, and turned out in large numbers.

  • All of this organizing generated significant media attention and heightened pressure on the local authorities. Neighbors kept in touch with the reporters, informing them of the upcoming meetings and events.

  • Contacts made by our phone and field staff made a great difference. Many volunteers and experts who later helped out with the campaign learned about the issue from our canvass.

In the end, the pivotal piece of information that convinced local authorities to reject the proposal was the fact that no other tire-melting plant is operating successfully anywhere else in the world, despite claims to the proponents’ claims to the contrary. The residents of Columbus clearly said they did not want to be guinea pigs for a potentially dangerous new technology, and local officials ultimately agreed with them.