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Judge clears way for action on sale of Vicksburg Chemical

[08/18/04] A federal bankruptcy judge has ordered a tax lien in Warren County void, an action that could allow action by Warren County supervisors to lead to the sale and development of the old Vicksburg Chemical property.

The action means nearly $800,000 in property taxes will not be sought.

In 2002, Vicksburg Chemical closed the local operation on Rifle Range Road when its parent company, Cedar Chemical, filed for bankruptcy. In the process of the bankruptcy, the judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York allowed the company to abandon the 540-acre local tract to the ownership of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

MDEQ since has been monitoring the land to make sure that contamination from the manufacture of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer for the past 50 or more years does not migrate from the 40-acre part of the property actually used for chemical manufacture.

Since the plant was closed, MDEQ has also been trying to sell the land and has a potential buyer, Harcros Chemical.

The new company has proposed using a portion of the land that is not contaminated to develop 232 home sites, use a portion for manufacturing chemicals and selling about 220 acres to the City of Vicksburg for development as a golf course.

Harcros officials met with supervisors earlier this year and asked them not to oppose removal of the tax lien. Supervisors did not have the power to cancel the debt and it could only be removed by court order.

At Monday’s meeting, supervisors authorized Charles Selmon, board president and District 3 supervisor, to sign a statement for the bankruptcy court saying the board had no objection to the judge expunging the claim and lien against the property of Warren County and the City of Vicksburg for $779,560.12 in local taxes. The judge’s decision also affected a county in Arkansas where Cedar had a facility.

Board attorney Randy Sherard said he had been in contact with attorneys dealing with the bankruptcy and was told they believed the judge has the authority to invalidate the tax lien.

Responding to a question, District 5 Supervisor Richard George told District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders the county has not been counting on the money owed by Vicksburg Chemical when developing budgets for the past couple of years.

George also said he believed the county would be better off when much of the land is returned to the tax rolls as houses, commercial property and an operating chemical plant than opposing the action.

“There’s no money to collect” from Vicksburg Chemical, he said.