I am writing you this letter because you have a voice. Not just any voice, though – you have a voice heard by many. In the small town of Bella Vista, Arkansas, we are trying desperately to find our voice, as well. Maybe you can help.
In July of last year, a stump dump on the East side of our town started on fire. While originally told that it would last between 5-6 months, it has since been projected to last 5-6 years. At first when residents began complaining about their houses smelling of smoke, we were told by the POA and City that it is just harmless steam. When people started calling the EPA, they came out one day (a calm day) and apparently took measurements on the wrong side of the fire, stating that the air quality was safe. But when so many of the residents started having skin and respiratory issues, it was requested that the EPA come take measurements again. This time, the results were a little more realistic, stating that there were, in fact, harmful substances in the smoke. Though we have been far from quiet, our cries have mostly fallen on deaf ears so far. The city and the POA seem to want to pretend it doesn’t exist (the POA illegally ran this and another stump dump for many years without a permit, supposedly even allowing banned items to be dumped; the city claims they have no funds to help the residents or to help with re mediating the issue, even though they are spending large sums of money elsewhere and are building bike trails throughout the town).
Even some of the other residents in the town (on the side of town that has not been overwhelmed with smoke) have told us to “quit complaining” because they are “sick of hearing us cry about it”. There is even a Bella Vista Neighbors facebook group where merely mentioning the Stump Dump gets you banned.
But finally, with all of us persistently making calls, sending letters, and so on, the Governor did visit Bella Vista, and he declared it an “emergency”. However, he was under the impression that it would cost less than 10 million dollars to fix. Now that it has been estimated around 37 million dollars, he is not sure how to fund it either. The EPA will not help due to the government shutdown.
Now they are focusing on “preparing the site” for remediation, and hoping that funding somehow shows up. And just recently, we have been hearing reports that the other stump dump run by the POA on the West side of town is now “steaming”, as well. But for now, the residents of Bella Vista, AR, are prisoners in their own homes, being advised to limit time outside to less than 15 minutes. It is sad – if you drive down the streets of Bella Vista on the East side, you will likely see any people that are outside in face masks, as many people have had to invest in the kind of face masks remediation professionals use, because the air is so bad. Even staying indoors doesn’t help, as so many are becoming sick. Family pets are getting sick and dying. And those who have had to evacuate are breaking the bank trying to pay for two places. Selling is out of the question, as the prices would drastically decline once potential buyers are notified about the stump dump fire. Not to mention, all of our homes smell of smoke – nobody wants to buy that.
As for myself, my husband and I bought our house in Bella Vista in Feb. 2017. My new husband and I were so excited that we were going to start our family in such a wonderful place. When our daughter, Paisley, was born in July of last year, we decided to go stay with my husband’s family in his hometown 3 hours away during my maternity leave. Everybody wanted to spend some time with her, and I was grateful for the help with the new baby. Just a couple weeks later we got a message from our neighbor to not bring our baby back, there was a stump dump fire and all of the houses on our street were filled with smoke.
My house lies 750 feet away from the fire that is still burning. We have had to move our belongings to my husband’s hometown. We have gone broke trying to pay for two residences right after an unpaid maternity leave and a mountain of hospital bills from the baby. My husband has closed his business and my job hangs in the balance (they are currently letting me work remotely, but that most likely will not last). We are in a house that has asbestos, and the living conditions here are not near what they were in Bella Vista. If this fire does indeed last 5-6 years, we will have to send our daughter to schools that are not nearly as good as the ones in Benton County, where we had intended on sending her. And at that point, I am not sure we would want to uproot her and take her from all of the family and friends she has ever known. This has changed our lives completely, we have been affected in every possible aspect. And there is not an end in sight. But still I am thankful that we had the sense to not bring our baby into that, even when the POA, City, and even the EPA were still claiming it was safe. Because now it has been proven that it is not safe, and especially harmful to babies, the elderly, and those with a compromised immune system. But there are some that were not so lucky, that were unknowingly exposing their children to toxic smoke, but being told it was safe. And others yet that just have no place to go.
So many people that I have told about this situation have compared it to the movie Erin Brockovich. But we don’t have an Erin Brockovich fighting for us. We can only rely on ourselves, and so far, we have not been able to make our voices heard enough to make a change. The Governor declaring an emergency was a ilgQ in the right direction. But we need more. We need national attention for the funds needed to remediate this disaster. We need to shine a spotlight on a city and a POA that will not lift a finger to help the residents after causing the disaster to begin with. We need safe places to go. We need air to breathe. But most of all, we need a voice. Stronger than our own.
We are looking for our Erin Brockovich- please let me know if this is you.