Arkansas regulators to decide who’ll pay for year-old stump fire

The $4 million price tag on an underground trash fire that burned for nearly a year in northwest Arkansas remains the focus of state hearings over who will pay for it.

Bella Vista Property Owners Association challenged the state’s original decision to force it to pay  but the State’s Pollution Control and Ecology Commission wants a new hearing. The original decision was an agreement between the state and Bella Vista according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The property owners association contended that the consent order contradicted an order that it had signed with the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality. The new order, the association argued, meant it would have to swallow the $4 million expense it incurred putting out the fire without the potential to recoup money from others who were responsible, such as the company, Fredericks Construction.

This is the first successful challenge of such a consent order by a third party in decades — possibly ever. Without a formal hearing, third parties cannot depose anyone or have discovery, which makes the task of proving that officials did not consider certain information challenging. The commission rejected a similar petition in June for a lack of new evidence, despite the challenger asserting that the order that was being contested violated environmental law.

Friday’s decision was the latest among legal efforts to officially put someone on the hook for causing the Bella Vista stump dump fire, which occurred underground over multiple acres.

The dump was the result of years of placing trees and other unwanted objects in a hole in the ground, and firefighters discovered it was on fire in July 2018.

The fire burned for the next 11 months, producing air hazardous to respiratory health and posing environment concerns. Eventually, state lawmakers made $20 million available to put it out and clean up the area.

Bella Vista residents have filed multiple lawsuits in Benton County Circuit Court over who is responsible for the fire and who should pay for it.


Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette