FRENCHTOWN, Mont. - Frenchtown is now seeing some money from back taxes on the Smurfit Stone mill site. The money coming in is from a tax assignment. A third party called Guardian Tax Montana, LLC, paid the delinquent taxes for six of the 15 parcels of land at the Smurfit Stone mill site.
There will soon be more money because the land owner, M2 Green, auctioned off surplus property. Wednesday we found that total is $522,009.24.
Anna Conley, with the County Attorney's Office, says there are a number of steps the county needs to go through before they officially get the money. She also said the total could change, in part because some post auction expenses are estimates, not actual.
Jimmie McKay worked at the Smurfit Stone site for 26 years. He was hired in 1984. He said he started at cleanup and worked his way up through a number of positions. He said he likes to stay informed, that he's worried about what's happening to the property.
"As they tear things down, you know, and try to repair the damage that's done environmentally and physically to the land I kind of like to pay attention to see what's happening to my community," said McKay.
The community has been hit hard by more than a million dollars in unpaid taxes. McKay kept a close eye on what Smurfit Stone sold at auction, things left on the property since the mill closed.
"Most people were after scrap and the motors and the pumps, which are high dollar items in today's world, and if you can get them for pennies on the thousands of dollars, why wouldn't you?" said McKay.
A lot of workers once relied on the mill for their paychecks just seven years ago. Today, county services like the fire department and the school rely on funds from the back taxes. Slowly, piece by piece, those funds have begun trickling in.
When NBC Montana checked with the auction company we found the items sold anywhere from $100 up.
"I believe they paid $150,000 for this big boiler, and the conveyor belts went for $77,000," said Kevin Cregg. He's on security for James G. Murphy Co., making sure buyers from the auction only pick up what they're supposed to or don't mistakenly start a fire.
"Because when they cut metal, it causes sparks and so two or three people have to be watching," said Cregg.
Tim Murphy at the auction company said everything sold that M2 Green wanted sold. He said M2 Green wanted to keep some buildings in order to rent them out as a business park.
But McKay wants to see the entire property leveled.
“My greatest concerns are the river and the dikes that are holding the river back,” said McKay. “Rivers love to meander, and that’s their natural thing.”
He worries the property will flood and contaminants left over could flow downstream.
He wants to see the problems resolved.
"I want to see it in a generational time frame. I want to see it within 20 years to have this resolved. Because if it goes into 30 or 40 years it's like a lot of other things, that it just gets spread so thin that nobody can do anything about it," said McKay.
However, there are a lot of entities at work sorting out a mill that’s closed down, picked apart and sitting on contaminated land.
NBC Montana reached out to M2 Green and has not heard back.
Conley pointed out that M2 Green gave the county its proceeds on auction items that are both its real property and personal property. That’s something they did not have to do.