Missoula County anticipates getting more than a half-million dollars from an equipment auction at the former Smurfit-Stone mill in Frenchtown. But it’s going to take a while before entities like the Frenchtown School District or the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department see a nickel from the approximately $1.2 million in delinquent taxes owed by an out-of-state corporation.
Anna Conley, the senior civil deputy county attorney with the Missoula County Attorney's Office, said although she has not received an exact final accounting from the auction company, the county expects to receive $522,009.24 from the sale of items like boilers, machinery and parts that took place in August.
“They are having a hard time recovering the proceeds from one buyer, and we are waiting to see what the actual post-auction expenses for labor are,” she explained.
The total gross sales from the auction were $666,149.10, so the auction company took the difference for operating expenses and profit. However, Conley said the rest of the money should take a bite out of the $1.2 million in outstanding debt on the property.
The former mill site is owned by M2Green, otherwise known as Green Investment Group, an Illinois-based company whose website says it specializes in redeveloping brownfield sites. However, since it bought the site in 2011, there have been no cleanup efforts, no redevelopment and lots of silence from the company. The Missoulian has reached out to M2Green several times for comment on the property and has never heard back.
The 3,200-acre Smurfit site was a paper pulp mill from 1957 until 2010 when all the workers were laid off and the plant was shut down. Tons of hazardous chemicals harmful to humans and wildlife were used or produced there, and more than 900 acres consist of unlined ponds used to store treated and untreated wastewater and sludge from the mill.
A few gravel berms are all that separate the Clark Fork River from polluted areas. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the property to determine whether to declare it a Superfund site.
The county has sued M2Green seeking a judgment for delinquent taxes, and the Missoula-City County Health Department has filed an action under the county’s “community decay and public nuisance” ordinance asking M2Green to clean up certain aspects of the property.
“The auction proceeds is just one piece of a larger ongoing proceeding,” Conley said.
The county is going to hold the auction proceeds in escrow until officials are absolutely sure they won't have to take any of the money back.
Folks in Frenchtown have been getting a little impatient waiting for the money they are owed to come rolling in.
"The taxing jurisdictions have been wanting to know, understandably, what they will receive and when," Conley said.
On Tuesday, an aquatic ecologist and a river restoration export will give a lecture at the Missoula Insectarium about how insects can help give scientists clues to the legacy of heavy metals pollution in the Clark Fork River.
Will McDowell, who heads Clark Fork restoration projects for the nonprofit Clark Fork Coalition in Missoula, will be joined by Sean Sullivan, an aquatic ecologist and invertebrate taxonomist for Missoula-based biological consulting firm Rhithron Associates, will speak at about 7 p.m.
Sullivan’s work focuses studying the tiny bugs and algae in the river to develop ecological assessments.
“The community structure (of invertebrates) can give an overall picture of aquatic ecosystem health and integrity,” he explained.
McDowell will talk about the unprecedented efforts to clean up the Clark Fork River after a more than 100-year legacy of mining and pollution.
Doors open at 6:30, and admission is $5 for members or $8 for non-members. Admission includes two complimentary drinks and entry to the Insectarium. For more information visit missoulabutterflyhouse.org/event/bugs-and-brews-9/.