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Failure of bill to buy out homes near West Lake Landfill leaves Bridgeton residents dismayed

The welcome sign for the Spanish Village neighborhood in Bridgeton May 2017
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
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Missouri lawmakers rejected a bill last week that would have allowed residents of the Spanish Village neighborhood in Bridgeton to sell their homes to the state of Missouri and move away from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

Residents of a Bridgeton neighborhood were denied the chance to move away from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site after Missouri lawmakers last week rejected a bill that would have paid for a state agency to buy their homes.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, would have allowed 91 families in Spanish Village, the closest neighborhood to the landfill, to sell their properties to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last month, but when the bill moved to a conference committee, lawmakers cut funding for the bill from $12.5 million to $1 million. The measure failed in the House, 79-65. 

"You know, [legislators] think we're so dumb that we don't know what's going on," said John Henschke, who has lived in Spanish Village for 34 years. "It's all politics, that's what it is. And everybody's seeking their advantage. They have no concern about the houses that are in this situation." 

Rep. Mark Mattheisen, Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal and Rep. Justin Hill urge legislators to pass a bill to buy out residents near the West Lake landfill Superfund site in May 2017.

Rep. Mark Mattheisen, Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal and Rep. Justin Hill urge legislators to pass a bill to buy out residents near the West Lake landfill Superfund site in May 2017.
Credit Krissy Rechtlich | St. Louis Public Radio
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Rep. Mark Mattheisen, Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal and Rep. Justin Hill this month urged Missouri legislators to pass a bill to buy out residents near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

Area residents have expressed concerns in recent years that the radioactive waste at the Superfund site, which sits about 600 feet from an underground, smoldering fire, could cause cancer and autoimmune disease. 

Kevin Carroll, who bought his house in Spanish Village 19 years ago, had counted on the bill to pass the House so that he could afford to move. 

"If the state is not going to buy it out, we're pretty much stuck where we're at and we can't go anywhere," Carroll said. "The people in Jefferson City don't understand clearly what's going on here and the issues going on with the radiation at the landfill. Housing values have dropped. You can't sell your home in this subdivision." 

Others were ambivalent about leaving the subdivision. Bob Nowlin, who has lived there for nearly 40 years, said that he's concerned about living near the Superfund site, but most likely would choose not to move even if he was offered the chance to have his home bought out. 

"Well, not unless it was shown it was a really unhealthy situation," Nowlin said. "Or unless everyone was selling and we wouldn't want to continue living in a place that has mostly abandoned houses." 

In late 2016, Environmental Protection Agency officials began screening residences in Spanish Village for radiation. That came after a couple in the neighborhood who had their home tested by environmental attorneys filed a lawsuit against landfill owner Republic Services and 10 other entities in November, alleging that they were responsible for the radioactive contamination on their property. The EPA has yet to release their findings. 

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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