BLACKWELL, Okla.--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--In what Blackwell, Oklahoma Mayor Mark Cordell characterized as a historic milestone for the city he serves, he announced today a $54 million settlement of a portion of the lawsuit filed by the city of Blackwell, Oklahoma and its Municipal Authority on October 15, 2009 in Kay County District Court against Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. and its related entities.
“We have been on a long journey”
The city of Blackwell, Oklahoma and the Blackwell Municipal Authority were represented by Ryan Whaley Coldiron Shandy, an Oklahoma City-based law firm with a national presence in the practice of litigation, energy and environmental law.
The suit involved the contamination of soil and groundwater as a result of operations conducted by Blackwell Zinc Company from 1916 to 1974. The contaminants were lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic.
At one point in time, the Blackwell smelter was one of the largest operations of its kind in the United States, using 14 high-volume, intense furnaces to smelt the zinc ore. The furnaces were used to break, melt and fuse the metallic constituents in ore into pure forms and ready them for distribution. During its 58 years of operation, Blackwell Zinc Company was a major employer and supporter of the community.
“We have been on a long journey,” stated Mayor Cordell. “But today our journey has arrived at a very favorable destination with the announcement that we have settled a portion of the lawsuit we ultimately filed last year, a culmination of many years of negotiation, addressing legal issues, and highs and lows. Without question, the $54 million settlement represents a major-league win for our community. It is historic in scope, and it will allow us to develop groundwater, smelter material and soil management programs as well as fund related city operations. This settlement could not come at a better time for our community. Let me reiterate, the winners today are our current citizens and future generations who will call our wonderful community home in the decades to come.”
Freeport will continue to have responsibility for remediating soil and groundwater in accordance with the requirements of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”). The mayor stated, “I want our citizens to understand that Freeport will continue to fulfill its obligations as required by the DEQ. The city appreciates what Freeport has done and plans to do in terms of addressing soil and groundwater issues, and the city is committed to working with Freeport in the future.”
The mayor went on to commend the Blackwell City Council members for their years of tenacity and their support of the lawsuit. “I can’t say enough about my colleagues on the council. Councilpersons Carroll, Hudsonpillar, Wertz and Bechtel deserve a lot of thanks because they have been unrelenting in their evaluation of the city’s needs and in the pursuit of this lawsuit. I appreciate their support in seeing us through today’s big victory. Our city government stayed the course, even in the face of some skeptics. Today’s announcement validates our immovable position to seek a fair and just settlement for our city.”
Mayor Cordell also had high praise for the Oklahoma City law firm of Ryan Whaley Coldiron Shandy. “The firm has provided us with exceptional guidance and counsel for the past three years. I would put their experience and expertise in the environmental and litigation arenas against any firm in the country. Our community is grateful to them.”
“This is indeed a very positive development for the city of Blackwell,” commented Don Shandy, a director with Ryan Whaley Coldiron Shandy. “In addition to the settlement, it is important to note that claims related to the sewage treatment plant and affiliated piping are being reserved. Freeport has until July 1, 2012 to demonstrate that its groundwater system is effective. If it fails to work, the city of Blackwell has the option of either working out an arrangement with Freeport to enhance the remedy, or if necessary, initiating further litigation. We also appreciate the strong leadership of the mayor, the Blackwell City Council and City Manager Mark Skiles. All have played an integral part in supporting our legal efforts during the past three years.”
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