Jackson County

‘Are we responsible?’ county asks port about Mississippi Phosphates

The EPA had in the past ranked the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation Pascagoula plant 84th in the nation for toxic releases based in part on the fact that it releases 810,000 pounds of ammonia into the air each year.
The EPA had in the past ranked the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation Pascagoula plant 84th in the nation for toxic releases based in part on the fact that it releases 810,000 pounds of ammonia into the air each year. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Jackson County Supervisor Randy Bosarge said he doesn’t want to see any Jackson County taxpayers money going to clean up or deal with the Mississippi Phosphates industrial site.

He and county leaders want to know if the county can be held responsible for any part of the aftermath of Mississippi Phosphates’ failure.

Jackson County Board of Supervisors asked Port Director Mark McAndrews to give the county a rundown Monday on where the county stands. The site of the defunct plant is 600 acres and now a potential Superfund candidate.

McAndrews said Friday, he’s prepared to give the board a history of the property — it has always been a fertilizer plant and is privately owned, not part of the port’s holdings. He said he can give an ownership history dating back to 1956 and tell supervisors who owned it when the second gypsum stack was approved in 1997.

He said Mississippi Phosphates still owes the port more than $400,000 in fees and water bills.

But other than that, he said, there’s not much he can answer.

“I’m just an interested bystander,” McAndrews said.

Mississippi Phosphates ceased operations in December 2014 and declared bankruptcy under Chapter 11 protection, leaving more than 7 million gallons of highly acidic, contaminated wastewater stored at the plant.

The EPA took control of the two huge gypsum mounds — byproduct of the fertilizer process — along Industrial Road east of Pascagoula in February.

The $12 million trust that Mississippi Phosphates set up to maintain treatment of the acidic wastewater from the mounds ran out in January after only 17 months. And the federal government, with state help, has had to step up for environmental reasons.

The EPA assumed temporary control of wastewater treatment — at a cost of $1 million a month — after the trust, which owns the property, ran out of money. But the EPA told Pascagoula residents last month that it has limited funds to pay for treatment of the 2 million gallons a day of acid runoff.

A spokesman estimated EPA funds would run out in early summer. In the meantime, they started the process of getting it on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site and are trying to negotiate a sale of the property.

Bosarge said he believes the responsibility should fall to the federal government, not to Jackson County.

“Unless a judge orders me to, I’m not going to spend the (Jackson County) taxpayers’ money to keep that place cleaned up,” Bosarge said.

“We just wanted to know what the potential responsibility might be,” he said. “If there is any, I want to know. If there’s none. I’m OK.”

County Supervisor Melton Harris said he wants to know what’s going to happen with the property.

“Any time you lose an industry,” Harris said, “there’s a question about what’s going to happen.”

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