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“Mountain of shingles” clogs lot after illegal dump

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VALLEY BROOK, Okla. - Donnie Leonard can only guess how big the pile of shingles is.

He can't see over or around it, as he works on the property near the intersection of I-240 and Eastern.

"Shingles take 400 years to biodegrade in the landfill, and we're just piling them," he said. "This roofer got a good deal to dump here cheap, and the guy collected the cash and ran."

A man named Kerry Lane pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors connected to the illegal dumping.

The Department of Environmental Quality said Lane collected the shingles after a 2010 hail storm that hit Oklahoma City, leaving behind more than $100 million of damage.

"He was not recycling any of the material," said Fenton Rood, assistant director of the DEQ's Land Protection Division. "And, in fact, to be able to properly recycle the shingles had to be separate from everything else that was torn off the roof, and that was not happening either."

Instead, Lane dumped the shingles behind a fence in Valley Brook, in a pile that kept growing and growing.

"It's a mountain of shingles," Rood said. "Because it can attract other waste, it can become an environmental hazard."

The DEQ estimates it could cost $4 million to clean everything up.

It's working on an agreement with the current landowner, who inherited the dump, to clean things up.

In the meantime, Donnie Leonard and Southern Grind LLC are doing what they can to repurpose the old shingles.

"The positive is it's not in a landfill underground right now," he said. "It's in a place it can be used. And, I think eventually it will."

Leonard and his business partners have worked to grind 2,000 tons of material into a finer, almost powdery substance, which can be mixed with asphalt to pave roads.

It can also be mixed with gravel to improve dirt roads.

Oklahoma and Canadian Counties have already bought half of what Leonard's machine has ground up.

"The ability to use more of this material and get more recycled is going to come from mixing it with gravel roads and making better gravel roads," he said.

Trash is making things more difficult.

Southern Grind has had to pick through everything from La-Z-Boy chairs to engine motor parts to chainsaws as it attempts to recycle.

Southern Grind doesn't intend to process the entire pile but hopes it can make a difference and encourage others to recycle their roofing material in the meantime.

The DEQ said the case has already made a difference.

Discovery of the dump site led to a state law, which required all shingle recyclers to be registered with the state.