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Columbus site gets $67M in Kerr-McGee settlement

 

Nathan Gregory

 

The site of a defunct plant in Columbus is part of a $5.15 billion dollar settlement from the company that acquired Kerr-McGee. Of that, $67 million for prospective environmental work will go to the environmental trust created to clean up the 14th Avenue North site. 

 

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. announced the agreement Thursday to resolve all claims against Kerr-McGee, which Anadarko bought for $18 billion in 2006 shortly after Kerr-McGee sold off its chemical division as Tronox. Thursday's announcement comes after allegations that Tronox had transferred environmental liabilities to Anadarko. 

 

The Columbus site is a former wood treatment facility spanning 90 acres that Kerr-McGee purchased in 1964 after it had already been in operation since 1928. The site was operated until 2003. It was then that the site was closed and sealed off. Environmental testing agencies found creosote contamination in sediment samples taken from drainage ditches and residential property. Wood products were treated with the pesticide pentachlorphenol until 1976, while coal tar and creosote were used to treat wood products until the shutdown. The company used open ditches that were in 100-year-flood plains for years to transport surface water runoff from the plant into Luxapilila Creek, which spread toxic chemicals to neighboring residential areas through flooding, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

 

Anadarko CEO Al Walker said the settlement with trusts and the U.S. government will fund the remediation and cleanup of environmental liabilities. 

 

"Kerr-McGee's businesses all over the country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake," U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the Associate Press Thursday. "It tried to shed its responsibility of this environmental damge and stick the United States with the huge cleanup bill." 

 

In February, Columbus councilmen authorized Mayor Robert Smith to execute an environmental action and transfer agreement between the city and Multistate Environmental Response Trust to remove timber containing creosote, clean the drainage ditch at the site of all hazards and poisonous contaminants and construct a new ditch. The city plans to concrete the ditch at a later time using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding. 

 

Multistate Trust received 25 percent of the settlement, or about $1.28 billion, to remediate contamination at 23 other sites along with the one in Columbus formerly owned by Kerr-McGee. 

 

Memphis Town Community Action Group leader Steve Jamison told The Dispatch last year that about 3,500 people in the area were affected by the after effects of the plant's activities and that 1 million gallons of toxic water was being pumped through the 14th Avenue ditch each month, extracting some 5,000 gallons of creosote a month. The Environmental Protection Agency designated the area as a Superfund site in 2011 and added it to the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites. 

 

City officials said in February that the portion of the ditch in question runs approximately 1,700 linear feet between 23rd Street and the rail line on the east side of the old Kerr-McGee property.  

 

The settlement is the largest environmental enforcement payment in history, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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