For more than a month, a Texas County man has been dealing with his own personal environmental disaster that destroyed vegetation and killed fish on his property.
One rainy day in early July, Bill Evans said he saw something unusual near his home on Swisher Drive in Elk Creek: A tanker truck was on his neighbor’s property and a large amount of milk was being dumped onto the ground.
“I went up there and talked to him,” Evans said. “I said, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ He told me not to worry about it because it was 80-percent water and it wouldn’t hurt anything and be good fertilizer. I said, ‘You’re going to kill every fish in my pond by morning.’”
Evans was right. Authorities are investigating.
“He knocked on my door in the morning and said, ‘Bill, I’ve made a terrible mistake –– I’ve killed all your fish like you said,” Evans said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be good.”
Evans contacted several state and county agencies about the situation, including the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Texas County Sheriff’s Department and Texas County Health Department. Accompanied by a Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) agent, representatives of the DNR’s division of environmental quality water pollution staff –– from the southeast regional office in Poplar Bluff –– made trips to Evans’ property on July 10, 16 and 17.
DNR investigator Josh Wilkerson produced a four-page report documenting several findings and showing three photos. A copy of the report was provided to the Herald and included the following information:
•Upon arrival at the location on July 10, Wilkerson, a co-worker and an MDC agent smelled an “odd” odor of milk and observed a visible depression containing a white liquid. The depression led to three ponds on adjacent land owned Bill Evans and a tributary of Elk Creek. Dead fish were visible in one of the ponds.
The trio made contact with the owner of a local trucking company and the man who owns the land where the liquid was dumped (who is an employee of the trucking company). The two told investigators they had dumped about 3,300 gallons of “high bacteria milk” rejected by Central Equity Milk Cooperative of Springfield.
The landowner stated he had already spoken to Evans about re-stocking the dead fish.
Contact was made with Evans, who provided investigators access to his property. Less than 100 fish were reported dead in one pond, and the two other ponds had no “visible impacts.”
•During the second visit on July 16, investigators observed dead grass on the property where the milk had been dumped, and a dam was observed around the initial depression area to reduce run-off of the milky substance.
•Water samples were gathered on July 17.
The report indicated a letter would be sent to the trucking company owner asking if he had acquired a permit for land application of the milk. It would also request an explanation for the actions regarding the application of the material and DNR approval before any similar dumping in the future. The report also stated Evans was advised the impacts to his property, ponds and fish was a civil matter between he and his neighbor.
Evans said he has several disputes with the report.
He said two more truckloads of milk were dumped the same day, which would add up to about 10,000 gallons.
“I saw him dump two truckloads,” Evans said.
Evans said all three ponds were affected because of recurring rainstorms, and that far more fish were killed than reported.
“Because of that big flood we had about a week later, they were all affected,” Evans said. “And you can see that many fish in some of the pictures I took, and that only shows one little corner of a pond.”
In addition to dozens of sunfish, the fish kill included several grass carp weighing 40 pounds or more and about 40 large goldfish weighing about four pounds apiece.
“We used to feed them,” Evans said. “They were like pets.”
According to the report, talks of restoring the site broke down, and the neighbor would “require permission” from Evans to perform any work on his property. Evans said otherwise.
“I begged him to come pump that junk out of that pond when he did it,” he said.
Evans said his neighbor eventually became uncooperative.
“When DNR told him there was nothing they could do and it was all over with, he threw his hands up in the air and said, ‘It’s over with as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll put fish back in your pond if you want.’
“There’s no way you could put them in there for five years and expect them to live.”
Evans described the smell on and around his property was as if “three pig farms opened up next door.” He said the stench is still intolerable after more than a month.
“My wife and I can’t sit out on the porch any more,” he said. “You talk about a mess.”
Evans said the matter is ongoing. No names have been released because no charges have been filed.
“He knocked on my door in the morning and said, ‘Bill, I’ve made a terrible mistake – I’ve killed all your fish like you said. I knew it wasn’t going to be good.”