Longform

The Trashing of Ferris, Texas

Page 5 of 9

Records filed with the state, however, show that Waste Management did some expensive sniffing around the site eight years earlier--the very year that Billy Don persuaded his city council to let him take it over.

Waste Management, records show, commissioned borings--drillings to determine conditions beneath the ground's surface and collect soil samples--at Skyline in 1978.

Five years later, Waste Management ordered an extensive series of borings on the acreage adjoining Dunn's 73-acre site--a tract included in the proposed expansion. Southwestern Laboratories of Dallas conducted the tests, and incorporated the results into a "Geotechnical Investigation for Proposed Sanitary Landfill" prepared for Waste Management. It is dated September 12, 1983.

Confronted with evidence of his company's early involvement, Waste Management's Lattimore commented: "We may have done some early studies. We do so routinely, before we ever entertain options to purchase."

The company's first bid for more space, in 1988, stirred up formidable opposition in Ferris and throughout southern Dallas County, where residents were already engaged in a handful of landfill fights. A coalition of black and white Ferris residents, dubbing themselves "SOC"--for "Save Our Community"--sprung up and waged a fierce fight against Skyline that initially won most of the town's support.

Its leaders included Earline Jackson--who was appointed to Ferris' city council in 1990, and later elected; the Rev. Coumpy, a lifelong Ferris resident; Billy Hassell, a retired TU Electric employee and one of the town's most prominent white citizens; and Lorrie Coterill, an anti-dump veteran who lived outside of neighboring Wilmer. SOC whipped up a wave of support that washed through the city elections in 1990 and 1991, gaining the organization a majority on the Ferris city council.

The SOCers, in turn, faced an organization called TUFF--Taxpayers United for Ferris. The group's leadership wasn't identified in its newsletter, but everyone presumed TUFF to be a front for Billy Don Dunn and friends. In fact, the return address on TUFF's newsletter--Post Office Box 355--is the same as that noted on Dunn's Trinity Valley Reclamation letterhead back in 1982. Lattimore acknowledges that Waste Management channeled funds to TUFF, and that Dunn was indeed a member.

The group made its presence known through TUFF News, a slickly packaged newsletter distributed throughout town. TUFF's favorite cause was voicing concern about the money the city was spending on legal fees as it fought Waste Management's powerful expansion machine. A cartoon published in one of its early issues depicts Earline Jackson, Billy Hassell, and two other pro-SOC council members blindfolded, marching in line toward a frightened taxpayer with a target painted on his rear. The first man in line wields a legal bill stuck to a pin. "The SOC members of City Council enjoy another game of pin the bill on the taxpayer," the caption reads.

TUFF News, in fact, was one of the milder strategies that Skyline supporters employed in 1990, '91, and '92--the craziest years of Ferris' landfill fight.

For its public defense--and eventual counterattack--Waste Management deployed a crack two-man team: Billy Don Dunn, who the company hired as a consultant and "community liaison," and Calvin Booker, a black former city councilman in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who would later apply his considerable political charms to residents of The Flats.

The state denied Waste Management's first expansion application in December 1990 on technical grounds, citing problems with its drainage plan.

But SOC got no reprieve. Waste Management turned right around and filed a revised expansion application, eventually calling for 667 acres of dumping grounds in and around Ferris. It is the same application that stands before the TNRCC, the department of health's successor agency, today.

The new application, filed in 1991, would fuel SOC's last major bid to block the expansion. The Ferris City Council had voted the year before to annex all of Waste Management's property into the city. If the annexation stood, city ordinances calling for residential zoning on the newly annexed property would automatically preclude expanded landfill operations.

Undeterred, Waste Management responded with a pair of lawsuits--suing council members who opposed the dump individually, as well as the city's board of adjustment, which helped craft the annexation move.

Meanwhile, the town began to descend into a phase of unprecedented small-town nastiness. Earline Jackson and Billy Hassell caught the brunt of the anonymous threats, harassment, and ridiculing cartoons circulating at the time. One such unsigned scribble, left in conspicuous places downtown, depicts three SOC members hung upside down in a men's bathroom, their wide-open mouths serving as urinals. The caption reads: "What to do with a dead SOC member."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

Latest Stories