BELLA VISTA (KFSM) -- Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (Dec. 28) he plans to declare an emergency next week to help expedite work to solve a smoldering underground fire at a former stump dump in Bella Vista.
Speaking alongside local, state and federal officials, Hutchinson said he also will recommend to the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission spending up to $8 million from a reserve fund created specifically to aid projects involving remediation of hazardous or problematic sites.
"(Declaring an emergency) will allow us to cut through some red tape and help us to accelerate the action that needs to be taken," Hutchinson said.
"We don't want to sit around and debate who's responsible. We don't want to try and figure out who we ought to point the finger at."
A fire has been smoldering deep underground at the site since July, and the Bella Vista Fire Department has said there’s no safe way to put it out.
Earlier this month, state health officials declared the air round the property 'unhealthy' and urged residents to avoid prolonged exposure to the area.
Brown's Tree Care owns the property, which is catercorner to Trafalgar and Kingsland roads.
Neither Brown's Tree Care or Blue Mountain Storage, the previous owner, appeared to have a permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to operate a disposal site.
Sen. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who has toured the site twice, called the fire a "disaster" that has transformed from a "quality of life issue" into a "life issue."
"You folks have a serious issue on your hands," Womack said.
"You are looking to governmental resources that you pay taxes to support to give you some relief and we owe you that relief. "
He added that it's imperative the issue be fixed to "allow life in Bella Vista to go on ... in a peaceful and healthy way."
Following a round of particulate matter monitoring by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, immediate areas around the site received an "unhealthy" designation, according to the Air Quality Index (AQI), which uses a range of zero to 500 to monitor particle pollution in the air.
A widely used industrial chemical, benzene was detected at .022 parts-per-million within the boundaries of the former stump dump.
Benzene can cause serious health effects if “a person is exposed to it either in high doses (a lot of it) or over a long amount of time,” according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).
However, the EPA doesn't consider this an immediate health concern because it doesn't exceed the two-week to seven-year exposure screening level of .03 ppm.
The city of Bella Vista has set up a website to track the progress of the fire.
The stump dump was leased by the Bella Vista Property Owners Association from 2008 to 2016.
It was used as a collection area for residents’ stumps, brush, and leaves. The POA closed the stump dump down in 2016 after it reached capacity.
ADEQ also ordered the POA to close another stump dump on the west side of town earlier this year.
Hutchinson said the potential for any liability issues related to dumping and burning at the site will be addressed at a later date.
Residents have said there's evidence the dump contains remnants of discarded construction materials, including concrete and fiberglass.