Missoula County exploring legal options over unpaid taxes at old Smurfit site

What remains of the old Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp and paper mill west of Missoula. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

More than a year after reaching a settlement agreement with a Washington-based company over unpaid taxes at the shuttered Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill site west of Missoula, Missoula County is still waiting to collect, and it’s apparently growing impatient.

During a closed-door meeting among county officials on Tuesday, commissioners began exploring other options as they look to collect nearly $1 million in delinquent taxes, according to Anna Conley of the County Attorney’s Office, who was in Tuesday’s meeting.

“The county is discussing its options regarding addressing that situation and how best to ensure that the significant delinquent taxes are paid on the property to ensure that local taxing jurisdictions, such as Frenchtown schools and the Frenchtown fire department, receive needed revenue,” Conley told the Missoula Current after the meeting.

Missoula County approved a settlement agreement with Wakefield Kennedy in November 2017, which would see the Washington lender pay roughly $967,0000 in delinquent taxes owed by M2Green on several parcels of property at the former pulp and paper mill.

As part of that agreement, Wakefield was expected to foreclose on 14 of the 15 lots owned by M2Green. The later company has been accused of scraping the site’s valuables and abandoning its promises to redevelop the site.

Wakefield financed much of M2Green’s original purchase of the property in 2011 and still holds the mortgage.

“Wakefield has not complied with the court’s order in previous litigation to initiate foreclosure proceedings on 14 out of 15 of the taxable parcels at the Smurfit site,” Conley said. “It is my understanding that they are currently preparing to initiate foreclosure proceedings, but haven’t yet done so.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is testing areas of the property for potential industrial contamination and cleanup, though that process also remains in dispute, as the county believes the agency’s evaluation has failed to address a number of local concerns.

M2Green remains a potential responsible party if cleanup is warranted.