THE SIGN POSTED ON A FENCE OUTSIDE THE GUERRA and Company General Merchandise store in Sierra Blanca serves notice. “Attention: Any Company Intending to Dump Hazardous or Toxic Waste on Our Home Hudspeth County: We Will Not Allow You to Use Us as a Dumpsite. Our Health, Children, Water, and Land Are Most Precious to Us.” The message leaves the impression that a ruling by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission last October, rejecting a permit to open a nuclear-waste dump in Sierra Blanca, never really happened. Indeed, even in the aftermath of tilting against radioactive windmills and turning back what many said was a “done deal,” a visit with three activists involved in the decade-long battle shows that the fight to protect West Texas’ natural resources is far from over.
Take Bill Addington, the Sierra Blanca native who has been in the trenches from the beginning. He’s back behind the meat counter at Guerra’s, which has been at its current location since 1928, but the counter is empty and half the shelves are bare. From here, Addington runs the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund, which is now fighting against a sludge ranch north of town, operated by Merco Joint Venture, as well as a proposed nuclear-waste facility 230 miles away in Andrews, which the Legislature failed to authorize this session but may take up again in 2001. As the anti-dump movement’s main spokesperson, the 42-year-old Addington has paid dearly for the privilege. His wife left him and took their son because, she said, she saw him more on television than at home. He says that he and his mother, Gloria, spent more than $250,000 on the fight, money that could have helped cover the $37,500 they owe the county in back property taxes. And the lumberyard the Addingtons owned burned five years ago—the result of arson. When Addington implied that pro-dump forces might have been behind the fire, he became one of the defendants in a $60 million defamation suit filed by Merco, only to be dropped from the suit days before the trial began.
But if Addington deserves credit for leading the charge against the dump, he also chased away what some people thought would be an economic windfall. Many movers and shakers in this town of 650 dislike him passionately, namely, anyone with a stake in bringing in business, regardless of what kind. Today Sierra Blanca’s economy