It's Low Noon in Eastvale, Texas as a Little Town with Big Trouble and No Money Fights Rural Decay

updated 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Eastvale, Texas, amid the rolling hills near Lake Lewisville and 20 miles north of Dallas on Highway 423, was founded 10 years ago as a "dream community" and weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It hasn't worked out that way. In fact, for the 625 people left in Eastvale, civic blunders have turned the envisioned refuge into such a comic-opera catastrophe that citizens elsewhere should look on their own municipalities with something approaching gratitude.

To begin the woeful tale, Eastvale's two and a half miles of winding roads have become so pockmarked with platter-size potholes that the town's two ancient, army-surplus trucks, outfitted to fight fires, can't go more than five mph for fear that pieces will break off. School buses won't even drive through the town anymore, and the post office recently sent letters warning that if something isn't done, it will have to stop delivering the mail. Last summer when an ambulance was called to Eastvale, it was forced to stop out on Highway 423, from where the attendants hiked a quarter mile with a stretcher to pick up the patient. By now the sight of cars bumping down the wrong side of the street or weaving around gigantic craters has become so commonplace that the Eastvale police don't even try to enforce drunk driving restrictions anymore.

And as they say on the late night "dollar a holler" TV commercials: That's not all.

The stuff on which Eastvale is built is so far from being the good earth that it can only be called malevolent. When it's dry, the ground cracks as much as two feet deep, breaking concrete culverts. When it rains, the streets become canals of rim-deep mud, "slicker 'n owl poop" in Texas lingo, which makes driving a challenge that even A.J. Foyt might pass up. The mud slides like lava through drainage ditches, caving in the sides. Eastvalians call this particular brand of Texas dirt "elevator mud," because it sticks to the bottom of boots, and the further you walk, "the taller you get." Because of this leaden muck, septic tanks must be cleaned often lest they overflow—and all Eastvale has septic tanks.

And that's not all.

Eastvale also has a water shortage, mainly because poorly installed pipes break. Moreover, the pipes, put in as needed, are of varying sizes and would have to be replaced uniformly before the town could join the regional water district. Last summer things got so bad that the town banned the filling of swimming pools (there are only two) and playing with hoses. The fine was $1,000, but nobody got one. Even so, the pizza parlor owner complained that he couldn't draw enough water to make cups of tea for his customers.

And that's not all.

Last year Eastvale took in only $104,000, its biggest source of revenue being fines ($40,000) from speeders out on 423, the rest coming from the likes of the fire department's bingo games ($2,000) and the town soda machines ($592). Bottom line? The town can't afford to fix anything. Surveying all this with a cool political eye, the previous mayor quit.

In all fairness, Eastvale's planners never envisioned a year-round city. But as the original weekend residents grew older, many decided to retire there, and because a third of them live on fixed incomes, the city never has been able to levy a property tax that would support local services. Some residents have departed in disgust, and businesses that checked out the town have refused to move in.

Still, Lord knows why, Mayor Bert Eubanks, an effervescent blond grandmother, is optimistic. Two weeks ago, in a last, desperate bid to raise the money needed for survival, Mayor Bert hoisted her gavel in city hall—a converted ramshackle house—and began auctioning off the last piece of the town's property, a 50' x 125' parcel used as a school crossing. It was an idea Mayor Bert thought up herself: Divide the plot into one inch bits and sell them off for $10 apiece. "I know there has to be a way to solve our problems," she says. "We just have to find it." Her first priority is to use part of the proceeds to cover exposed water lines before the winter freeze hits. Then they can be buried deeper and standardized. "Lake Lewisville is predicted to rise right up to our city boundaries," she says of the local reservoir (to which her town can't afford water rights). "If we can just handle the present emergencies, then five or six or seven years down the road we could be a model community with nice homes, light industry and retail businesses."

If that comes to pass, maybe The Colony, an upscale area just to the south, will tear down the big wooden fence it put up to shield its eyes from poor Eastvale. Every day, says Mayor Bert, Eastvalians kick out a few slats so their kids can take a short cut to school, "and each evening, the Colonists hammer back the boards."

To help boost civic spirits in the meantime, the mayor and friends are sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the motto, "I'm surviving the Eastvale blight." Says the unsinkable mayor, "If it weren't for all this trouble, everything would be perfect."

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