The Trashing of Ferris, Texas

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The future promises even greater things, including a modest total of 40 new jobs--positions needed to handle the landfill's increased capacity. Waste Management has also pledged to relocate one of its trash-hauling centers from Dallas to Ferris.

Many town residents praise Waste Management's operation of the dump, which had been cited by the state for numerous problems under its previous owner. Danny Satterwhite, whose car repair shop is an informal gathering place for pro-Waste Management supporterR> s, says Skyline landfill "is the cleanest place in town." And Fay Herron, the 72-year-old director of Ferris' senior center, agrees that Waste Management has made tremendous improvements at Skyline. She's also benefited directly from the company: it pays her salary at the senior center. "I don't see any sense fighting it now," she says. "They've been good to us."

As Jim Lattimore sees it, Waste Management has offered Ferris a new and brighter future--a chance to regain the prosperity and growth that died with the brickyards.

Jimmie Birdwell, Ferris' mayor for the past 10 years and a onetime landfill foe, agrees. "Only time will tell if the landfill is good for Ferris overall," he says. "But I think it's a good business proposition."

On the surface, it is hard to see why anyone in The Flats wouldn't take the $45,000, pack up, and seek greener, more fragrant hills. Birdwell says Waste Management has "helped those people get out of poverty, as far as their houses are concerned."

Yet bitterness and resentment still simmer in The Flats--and every other part of town.

Far from providing a new future for Ferris, notes the Rev. Coumpy, who lives about a half mile from the landfill, the expansion permit could just as easily signal its death. Why, he asks, would anyone want to settle in a little-bitty town whose most prominent feature is an enormous dump?

But not everyone is even looking that far down the road. No, there's a grievance that runs a lot deeper in Ferris, especially among its black residents. It's the way Waste Management has--piece by piece, with precision and skill--divided, then dismantled, The Flats.

You can sell a house and call it fair, Coumpy says. But you can't set a price on community.

Billy Don Dunn is livin' large these days in a sprawling brick home near the end of a curving, tree-shaded lane on the east side of town--the right side of the tracks. From here, in a neighborhood separated from the rest of the city by the four lanes of Interstate 45, one can neither see nor smell the giant heap of a landfill with which Billy Don's name will forever be associated in Ferris, Texas.

It's been nearly eight years now since Billy Don, Ferris' foremost entrepreneur--and for a total of six years, its mayor--swung the biggest deal of his life with Waste Management.

Dunn, a balding, middle-aged former railroad man who now serves as a "community liaison" consultant for Waste Management, hasn't a word to say publicly these days about the deal that brought him wealth and divided his town--or anything else, for that matter. "I have absolutely no comment," he told Dallas Observer, referring all queries back to Waste Management.

Getting others to talk about Dunn isn't tough, though. Just about everyone has an opinion on Billy Don.

"He's naturally going to be controversial to a lot of people, since he's connected to Waste Management," says Mayor Birdwell. "Now Billy Don has got his good points and his bad points. I think sometimes he's been involved too much in city politics. But he's never tried to influence me in any way as mayor."

"He's a very smart fella--real smart," says Bill Malloy, who served on the Ferris City Council when Dunn was mayor in the late 1970s. "He could sell an Eskimo a refrigerator. Yet personally I still like the guy. He's just Billy Don."

Bruce Springer, a southern Dallas County resident and longtime landfill foe, says Dunn is "pleasant and courteous, and very outgoing." But "he's a real crud," Springer adds. "He is the world's worst type of citizen.

"In Ferris, he had the opportunity to make himself a lot of money, and the fact that it was going to destroy his town didn't seem to matter."

Dunn's adventures in waste began around 1978, when Ferris was having a dismal time operating its little city dump, situated just north of The Flats. The state had cited the landfill on numerous occasions for poor operations, and it seems the city was in over its head, unable to correct the problems.

Along came Billy Don Dunn--who happened to be serving his second stint as the city's mayor. Sometime in early 1978, he took over operation of the city dump--"through necessity," he explained, in a letter to the state at the time.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

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