The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported today that a $20 million appropriation and $10 million loan for the state to clean up an underground landfill fire in Bella Vista zipped out of Joint Budget yesterday and, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew and Senate leader Jim Hendren leading the way, is likely headed to speedy passage. Thanks to a couple of Democratic Little Rock legislators for taking note of the state’s hurry to help a high-income Republican stronghold.
As noted before, this fire is at a landfill for years operated by the Bella Vista Property Owners Association, which runs things in the upscale, heavily Republican community developed by wealthy Cooper Communities (whose owners often turn up on campaign contribution lists of Republican politicians and which effectively controls the BVPOA. This is a government bailout for a wealthy interest, in other words.)
It’s a mess. It’s the kind of disaster that, sadly, typically winds up too big for all but government to handle. The irony here, of course, is that small-government Republicans like Hendren, Hutchinson, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack and, particularly, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (who famously stood in the way of disaster assistance for hurricane victims in liberal Northeastern states and railed about excessive emergency management appropriations) are moving heaven and earth to get government to pay for a disaster created by private interest mismanagement. Who’s responsible? The property owners? The subsequent landscaping company now supposedly in charge? Don’t know. Maybe gadfly Jim Parson’s lawsuit will get at that. I’ve yet to see a quote from a Republican suggesting private interests should chip in for what Hendren called a “man-made” disaster.
Thanks to D-G for reporting comments from Rep. John Walker and Sen. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock.
Rep. Walker noted other “less affluent” areas have problems. He noted the long-standing problems caused by the Kochs’ pollution-creating paper mill in Crossett.
“I am aware of several, especially in south Arkansas, the paper plants and paper mills and other areas where people live within proximity to pollution on a daily basis,” he said. “Do you all have a loan fund that can be invaded for purposes of providing similar consideration to the residents of those contaminated areas?”
The answer seems to be that the state is monitoring cleanup efforts in Crosset. (Which means the private company is paying, by the way. How well it’s protected the community is a matter of significant debate.)
Hendren countered Walker by suggesting he was making this “regionalism.” Chesterfield chimed in:
“I do believe that we’ve got to do a better job environmentally across the state, so mine is not regionalism.”
I do believe the issue is hypocrisy. Republicans decry government as the be-all solution until they need the money. We have government precisely for its unparalleled ability to address problems of unexpected magnitude and heavy public cost. I just wish for more conservative acknowledgment of government’s worth, particularly in poor folks’ backyards.
I also hope Hendren’s rhetorical sop to Walker and Chesterfield yesterday turns into action from an independent investigative panel or Joint Audit. He said:
“I would also agree that one of the things that I at least have taken away from this is we need more oversight and investigation about how did we get to this point, how did a landfill like this operate for so many years and how do we stop [it] from happening in future years?” Hendren said.
UPDATE: In response to Hendren’s alleged interest in doing a better job environmentally comes this comment from someone working to prevent hog farm waste damage to the Buffalo River:
One day (perhaps soon) we will wake up to hog farm and say “how did we get to this point”?
Phosphorus is building up and research shows it will create a problem. taxpayers may end up having to address it.
Same thing happened in the Illinois River watershed in NW Arkansas. If we want to avoid it on Buffalo River we need to take action now. It’s right before our eyes.
ADEQ has sounded the warning by denying C&Hs permit. Are legislators listening??
Based on the stump fire experience, we know if the day of calamity comes for the Buffalo, it’s unlikely to be the entity that caused the problem that will pay the bill, certainly not as long as they still enjoy the backing of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, more powerful even than the people behind Cooper Communities/Bella Vista.