DEP and community members work to remove rubber from Tug Fork River

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WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (WOWK) – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is teaming up with community members to rid the Tug Fork River of all the rubber.

This river has been used as a tire dumping ground for decades and residents believe most came from an old tire factory nearby.

“We’re cleaning up sins of the past and it’s a shame we have to do it…” said Project Coordinator, John Burchett.

John has lived in Williamson his whole life and for years he wanted to beautify the river. He decided to take action from inspiration on Facebook.

John said after reading about the amazing work the Coal River Group had done, his friend Pete Runyon launched a similar page called Friends of the Tug Fork River and both wanted to coordinate a cleanup mission.

After a few phone calls to the DEP and two site visits, John, DEP officials, and volunteers began hauling thousands of tires out of the river.

DEP’s Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP) is a program that strives to clean up litter in the state.

REAP Environmental Advocate, Dennis Stottlemyer said the Tug Fork River is the worst he’s seen in West Virginia.

Crews began the clean up on Thursday, September 26th, 2019 and over the course of four days, 2,321 tires.

The Tug Fork River is 159 miles long and will take decades to clean completely.

The work is backbreaking, but volunteers say it’ll worth it in the long run.

“My favorite part of this will be when we get the last tire out of the last river,” said Dennis.

REAP hosts scheduled, monthly tire collection events state-wide. If there is an initiative that could use REAP resources and assistance, or you would like to become a project volunteer, contact them here.

Today alone, 647 tires were removed. The tires are shipped off in truckloads to a tire monofill to be properly recycled. But it doesn’t come cheap, costing the state roughly $25,000 to process the rubber.

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