March 16, 2018 10:57:25 AM
After nearly 15 years, Maranatha Faith Center is receiving what its attorney described as potentially the largest property damage claim ever settled in Lowndes County's history, after the discovery of creosote on its property from the former Kerr-McGee plant.
On March 8, Bankruptcy Court Judge Jason Woodard granted a January request from the church to use the remaining money left over from a 2016 $10.59 million property damage claim settlement with Tronox to go to the church, according to an order in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Aberdeen. Maranatha is located on Waterworks Road, southeast of the former Kerr-McGee site.
On Jan. 29, the church moved to receive the rest of the money left over from the settlement, which is $7.89 million.
In December, Maranatha and bonding company GoldStar settled on a long-standing dispute that began in 2003, when the church filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy after defaulting on a bond for a construction project.
Local attorney Hal McClanahan, who represented Maranatha, said the church used a bond to begin construction on a new addition to its building. However, that halted with the discovery of creosote from the nearby Kerr-McGee site.
"The second they started construction, they hit creosote," he said. "Nobody knew it was there. They went through discovery, and ultimately, could not proceed with the construction with all the creosote."
Maranatha and GoldStar settled to give the bond company $2.77 million from the $10.59 million received from Tronox.
Jimmy Milam, an attorney representing GoldStar, declined to comment for this story.
Maranatha Pastor Rev. Steve Jamison could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday.
McClanahan said the church plans to use the money to rebuild its sanctuary and hopes to hold money to help other causes, as needed.
"We're happy we were able to get the money back to the church to rebuild it," he said. "This is proof positive that justice may get there slowly, but it does get there."
The settlement money comes from the April 2014 $5.15 billion settlement of a case with Anadarko Petroleum, which acquired Kerr-McGee in 2006. That deal, according to a Washington Post article at the time, stemmed from a Tronox U.S. Bankruptcy Court case, where Anadarko claimed Kerr-McGee deliberately transferred environmental and tort liabilities to Tronox before severing ties with the company.
McClanahan said the federal government kept 88 percent of the settlement money, which went toward cleanup efforts across the country. The remaining 12 percent went to property damage claims and individual damage claims.
"From 2014 on to the present date, arbitration procedures went on all across the country to settle property damage claims," McClanahan said. "We had to continue to fight for our share. Maranatha had a claim -- strictly a property damage claim. It was for the church site, not for the parishioners individually, but the church itself. There's the main sanctuary and three rental homes on the land."
Maranatha's arbitration for its property damage claim went on until late 2016, when a $10.59 million settlement was reached -- a little more than two thirds of its $15 million claim.
With the order granted, the case has a final hearing on Thursday where McClanahan will request to close out the case. After that, a waiting period will follow, and the court can disburse the settlement funds to the church.
McClanahan noted that nobody yet knows the final sum the church will receive because the base funds the court still holds accrue 1.24 percent interest daily. He said that will continue until the court clerk contacts the U.S. Treasury to issue the payment.
Kerr-McGee in Columbus
Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation, and later Tronox, operated a chemical manufacturing facility in Columbus near the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and 14th Avenue from 1928 to 2003.
The facility produced railroad cross ties. Since its close, the site has been discovered as the source of environmental contamination -- primarily from creosote -- and sealed off. Creosote is a chemical used to preserve wood. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, it can cause skin and eye irritation, stomach pains, liver or kidney problems and possibly cancer.
The Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust, working alongside other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, is overseeing the cleanup of the Columbus site, and more than 400 other Kerr-McGee sites in 24 states. The Trust uses money from the settlement of the federal lawsuit against the company to address high-priority environmental issues at the former sites. Columbus received $68 million for environmental actions around its former Kerr-McGee site.
In January 2017, the Trust completed the Seventh Avenue ditch project, installed new lining and box culverts along 935 feet of ditch from Maranatha to Propst Park.
In June 2014, the Trust completed the construction for the 14th Avenue Ditch project, which improved the ditch along the road north of site.
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