Residents Say Branson Country-Music Boom Is a Bust for Country Lifestyle
BRANSON, Mo. (AP) _ Transformed overnight into the nation’s live country-music capital, Branson is fast becoming more city than country.
The boom has meant money and jobs but has created problems that residents didn’t have to consider just a couple of years ago - traffic jams, higher prices, a strained sewage system and development spilling into the countryside.
″Around here we’ve always had a saying: ’You can’t have enough good neighbors,‴ said Mike Brittain, a farmer from nearby Kirbyville. ″But that’s changing by the minute, by the second. People are becoming very bitter.″
Situated in the scenic Ozarks, Branson has eclipsed Nashville as the place to go to see live country music. More than 4 million people visited Branson last year to catch shows by such stars as Willie Nelson and Mel Tillis.
Although tourism pumped an estimated $1.5 billion into the area’s economy last year, many residents say their wages aren’t keeping up with prices. Affordable housing is tough to come by.
Developers have moved into the countryside, including the rolling hills east of town where Brittain lives along Missouri Highway 76.
″The whole town’s moving out here,″ said Brittain, 43.
Across the highway from his land, Brittain walked on a strip of dirt cleared of trees. An out-of-town developer is bulldozing the hillside for a 48-unit apartment complex, Brittain said.
″We’re a dying breed because they are running us out of our own land,″ said his neighbor, Amy Whorton, who fears the project will send wastewater onto her 50-acre farm nestled in the hollow below.
″I don’t mind people moving in, but it’s just too many,″ she said. She and her husband, John, whose family has owned the land for generations, are thinking about moving away.
Other residents are raising their voices west of Branson, where Missouri 76 becomes a traffic-clogged, five-mile strip of theaters, motels, restaurants and other tourist attractions.
″We’re terrified about what’s going to happen to our nice, clean environment and water,″ said Paula Jones, a Reeds Spring teacher. ″We didn’t say, ‘We’ll build music shows. Come on down.’ ″
Mrs. Jones belongs to a group opposed to the Renfro Sanitary Landfill, the only dump serving Branson and a six-county area. State regulators have cited Renfro several times for allowing contaminants to leach into creeks that feed Table Rock Lake, two miles away.
″All these people want to close the landfill as if all this trash would just go away,″ landfill owner Cleo Renfro said. Renfro denied any leaching has occurred but conceded trash is stacked higher than state standards allow.
The landfill opened less than five years ago with an expected 20-year life. But it will last only another four years, Renfro said, because he didn’t anticipate the large volume of trash coming in now.
State environmental officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said water quality remains high in Table Rock Lake. But most officials agree on a need for much higher standards for private septic systems.
Heavy rains routinely cause septic overflows, raising bacteria levels in area creeks and lakes, said Tony Wasson, Taney County sewer district administrator.
Mayor Wade Meadows said growth in the community of 3,700 soon could threaten Taneycomo Lake, popular with trout fishermen.
State regulators cited the city’s sewage treatment plant for dumping 20,000 gallons of sludge into the lake after the Memorial Day weekend.
The plant hasn’t reported any problems since, but Meadows said it will be operating near capacity until an expansion is finished in mid-1993.