Hattiesburg settles suit with Hercules plant

Hattiesburg settles suit with Hercules plant

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The city of Hattiesburg has confidentially settled a 2013 lawsuit against Hercules, Inc. and Ashland, Inc. that alleged the company "knowingly and improperly disposed of hazardous industrial waste."

The city council passed a resolution to allow Mayor Johnny DuPree "to sign a confidential settlement agreement and release, negotiated by the city's attorneys consistent with the terms presented to the council during executive session, resolving certain legal claims the city has asserted against Hercules Incorporated and Ashland Inc. (collectively "Hercules") under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA and Mississippi common law relating to the former Hercules Plant on West 7th Street."

"The City of Hattiesburg filed suit against Hercules and later it's successor Ashland because of the contamination at the old Hercules site," attorney Jim Dukes said. "The clean-up of that site is ongoing and will be, most probably, for many years. However, the lawsuit that was filed is of a very technical nature and just involves the property inside the fence so to speak at Hercules. It does not involve outside residential places that may have an individual lawsuit pending. But the matter regarding the city and Hercules has been resolved and a settlement reached and approved by the United States District Court here in Hattiesburg."

According to the settlement agreement:

"The City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi ("Releasor") releases, discharges and acquits Hercules Incorporated and Ashland, Inc...from any and all claims, demands, actions, rights, controversies, expenses, compensation, loss of services, subrogated rights, liabilities, damages, and causes of action, known or unknown...arising from, based upon, and/or related  to Releasees' alleged creation, management, treatment, storage, detection, remediation, characterization, disposition, shipment, discharge, transport, disposal, placement, release, elimination, movement, deposit, injection, control, investigation, monitoring, reporting, spilling, removal, burning, burying, description, pumping, sampling, testing, spreading, collection, accumulation, and/or capture (and/or Releasees' alleged failure to do so) of any industrial waste, solid waste, hazardous waste, hazardous constituent, toxic substance, and/or noxious substance..."

"That doesn't mean to say that governmental regulatory agencies – EPA, MDEQ and others – can't go forward as they are going forward right now," Dukes said. "But as regard to claim of the city because it impaired certain water and sewer lines in the area out there, and this resolves those matters."

Dukes said the specific terms of the agreement are confidential because of other pending litigation, but said it will financially benefit the city.

"The terms of that agreement, as so often is the case, are ordered by the court to remain confidential pending other litigation that's going on," he said. "But it will inure to the benefit of the city financially, and we're pleased to say that. I can't comment on exactly to what degree or how, but the council and the mayor approved it. The court has approved it, and this is the final step in getting council approval."

The 168 acre Hattiesburg Hercules plant opened in 1923 and produced rosins, paper chemicals and agricultural insecticides. It was bought by Ashland, Inc. in 2008, and closed in 2009.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted groundwater testing on and off the plant's site in 2011 and 2013 and found chemical contaminants like benzene in the soil.