EAST PRAIRIE - Hindsight being 20/20, Cecil Hammontree of East Prairie agrees he probably shouldn't have allowed anyone to put tires on the land while it was still his.
But then, he did receive documented assurances from officials that everything was in order with the plan to build a tire conversion plant. "It's all on paper," Hammontree said. "I have lived with this thing since 1989."
Hammontree said it all started when East Prairie city officials acting on behalf of the county Industrial Development Authority contacted him about selling some land to James Sheible and Carl Sheible of Sheible Enterprises, Inc. "They were going to set up a tire plant," said Hammontree. "And I said: 'Well, OK.'"
Hammontree's earliest documentation is a letter to Kathie Simpkins, city administrator for East Prairie, dated March 28, 1989, from Bernie K. Andrews, a project manager for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, advising her of the possibility of Environmental Improvement and Energy Resource Authority funding for a tire conversion plant.
The letter also advises that "Mr. Sheible should have a preapplication conference with the Air Pollution Control Permit section of the Department of Natural Resources."
It appeared to be something that would benefit the community in addition to making some money on a land sale. "Their motivation was jobs," Hammontree said. "It all looked pretty good on paper."
"The Sheibles did come to Mississippi County with a project that appeared to be a legitimate tire project," Simpkins said. "Everybody thought going into this that it was a legitimate project. Mr. Hammontree was led to believe the same as me, the IDA Board members and everyone."
Hammontree said officials brought a guy from Texas to view his land. "They showed pictures of his plant that he had in Texas and said he was going to set up the same thing here," he recalled.
In an April 13, 1989, letter from John Amos of the Missouri Enterprise Business Assistance Center, Amos advises Simpkins of a visit with John Schnellbacker of Houston, Texas, and describes the tire conversion plant proposal as "a well prepared plan" with "rather optimistic" revenue projections but realistic construction costs.
Hammontree went ahead and spent $200 of his own money on legal documents to subdivide the land for the sale.
A letter from Simpkins to attorney Clifton Banta Jr. dated Oct. 3, 1989, notes a verbal agreement between the Sheible brothers and Hammontree for them to purchase 20 acres of property off Highway 105 at $2,000 per acre with an option on additional land at the same price.
Attached to this letter was a survey showing the legal description and a map of the land to be sold by Hammontree.
The first of two key documents is an Oct. 9, 1989, letter from the Sheibles with a Sheible Enterprises letterhead to Rick Roberts of the DNR which reads:
"Per our earlier conversation concerning the building of a tire conversion plant and stockpiling of tires, I have enclosed a legal description and a map of the property that we are in the process of buying. Tires will be stockpiled on the property until the plant is built and the necessary operating permits are obtained."
The second, a letter from Carl Sheible dated Nov. 21, 1989, advises "To Whom It May Concern" that "Sheible Enterprise Inc. is in the process of constructing a recycling facility for used tires" and that DNR "has approved this location for the storing of uses (sic) tires." Sheible directs those with questions regarding the storage site to contact Rick Roberts.
It was soon after Hammontree made what turned out to be his crucial mistake.
"They said they needed a place to put tires," he recalled. "All I'm doing is selling a piece of land and that's all I know, but if the plant is going up I guess it will be OK."
"It was Mr. Hammontree's decision to allow them to put them there and whether he got money up front, no one really knows," Simpkins said. "If he didn't, and I have no reason to doubt him, then yes, he did get hung out to dry with those. Unfortunately it just happened."
Hammontree said trailer trucks would pull up and dump tires into one huge pile on the land he was going to sell.
About 20,000 tires later, he was still waiting for the land sale to be finalized. "They never did show up with the money for the deal," Hammontree said.
Eventually he got word that the Sheibles were experiencing difficulties including a divorce and that the purchase would be delayed.
"I'm going to shut the tire thing off until I get some information and get some money," Hammontree recalled deciding. "I'm sitting here with a pile of tires and no money."
After waiting "for about a year or more," Hammontree's problem grew. "Some kids were playing back there and caught a portion of the tires on fire," Hammontree said. "Then I was the culprit." It was suddenly as if nobody else had ever been involved, "like Ihad an illegal dump site," he said.
After the fire, Hammontree paid a motor grader operator to separate the tires into smaller piles in case of another fire, but DNR was already up in arms. "They wanted me to pay 20 cents a tire to clean this thing up," he recalled.
Hammontree offered to personally haul the tires to an approved DNR site, but was advised that was not an option.
A letter dated April 7, 1992, from James A. Burris, regional director for the DNR, informs Hammontree that the department had conducted a follow up investigation on March 13, 1992, on his "unpermitted waste tire site" and had "no recourse but to issue you the enclosed Notice of Violation ... for continued non-compliance with the Missouri Solid Waste Law." The letter further advised the case was being referred to the Solid Waste Management Program-Enforcement Section for further enforcement action.
By Sept. 23, 1993, DNR officials were announcing they were prepared to request legal action through the attorney general's office.
Hammontree maintains he never accepted tires for money, although a few additional tires may have been added to the pile by individuals without his permission or knowledge.
"All it has done is cost me," Hammontree said. "I had to send (DNR) a check for $4,000. The only ones that made any money off the deal was the Sheible people. It was a bad deal for me."
Letters to the governor and legislative representatives didn't help and there doesn't appear to be any legal recourse for him. "If there was anyway to sue somebody, I would," he said. Sheible Enterprise
s went bankrupt. "Carl died and the other one is in prison," Hammontree said.
Hammontree said he doesn't know if the Sheibles were legitimately trying to set up a plant and failed or were running a scam, but he did discover after the fact that the brothers had previously left a tire pile in Illinois, as well.
"I think the Sheibles thought this was really something that would work here," Simpkins said. "I think they got into it and figured out it wouldn't work and got in over their heads, and just left."
Much of the documentation Hammontree has was provided to him by Simpkins to help him in communications with the DNR, Simpkins said. "It was because we wanted to let DNR know that Cecil didn't just go around taking these tires and making this tire dump," she said. "I think we finally convinced the DNR this was a situation he got into on good faith."
The DNR may have waived fines that could have been added to the bill, she added.
"I commend Cecil for finally getting this taken care of - I know it has cost him," Simpkins said. "I know he was finally able to sell some ground and hopefully that will help a little bit."