Correction: A previous version of this story mentioned Sach Oliver and his law firm represented the “defendants.” The story has been updated to “plaintiffs,” as the families were the ones that filed the lawsuit. Oliver also added this settlement is “equitably and fairly divided” instead of “evenly” as some households and individuals were harmed at different levels, which is approximately 85 households AND 150 people. The error has been corrected.
BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A more than $6 million dollar settlement has officially been reached in a lawsuit on the Bella Vista stump dump.
The property on Trafalgar Road in Bella Vista was a yard waste dump starting in 2003 when the Bella Vista POA started the endeavor. Tom Judson, COO of the Bella Vista POA, said they stopped leasing the land in 2016.
He said Brown’s Tree Care bought the land in January of 2018. The fire broke out several months later in July of 2018.
“The smoke got thicker and thicker and it didn’t go away,” said a neighbor who lives near the stump dump, who wished to remain anonymous. “Pieces on fire were drifting down onto us, on our homes, our yards, on our animals.”
She said it caused a lot of health problems for her.
“I would have more shortness of breath, cough, I had to go and see my physician more frequently and ended up being on more drugs, more antibiotics, more steroids than I had the previous five years put together,” she said.
What used to be a burning pile of debris has now grown over with grass. The people who filed the lawsuit will be getting some green in their pockets after a $6.3 million settlement was finalized on Monday.
Sach Oliver and his law firm represented the plaintiffs in this case. He said the payment will come from Blue Mountain, who previously owned the land, Brown’s Tree Care and the Bella Vista POA.
“It’s been an intensive litigation, but we are happy to work with the defendants in this case to reach a positive resolution,” he said. “Our goal is that all of our clients, which are the families and citizens of Bella Vista, can now have a wonderful community there, and Bella Vista is a great place to live.”
Even though the Bella Vista POA wasn’t involved with the land when the fire began, it was still sued and is part of the settlement payout.
Judson said his organization still worked hard to fix the problem. He said the state’s assessment of the clean up came back at a price tag of between $20 million and $36 million and a timeline of nine months.
“Nine months was way too long,” he said. “We felt we could get it done in a lot less and that would be better for the community as a whole.”
So that’s what they did. He said they hired contractors to clean up the stump dump for $4 million in less than 30 days.
He hopes this settlement will bring closure to those who were impacted.
“We’re closing the chapter on a challenging ordeal for our entire community,” he said. “We’re to be able to move forward and we’re pleased that it’s finally behind us.”
The neighbor we talked to said she’s happy to have clean air back.
“If it weren’t for this heat, I would have my backyard back too, but we’ll get there,” she said.
Judson isn’t able to share how much the POA has to contribute to the settlement.
The $6.3 million will be split “equitably and fairly divided” between all the plaintiffs in the case, which Oliver said adds up to about 85 households and 150 people.