Missoula County waits as lender pursues deeds from delinquent owner of Smurfit site

When Missoula County approved a settlement agreement with a Washington-based lender to collect years of unpaid taxes at a shuttered industrial site in Frenchtown, it included a stipulation that the company foreclose on the parcels by March 1.

Anna Conley, the senior civil deputy with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, said Wakefield Kennedy hasn’t foreclosed, though it has paid the taxes covered by the agreement – taxes owed by the property’s current owner, M2Green.

Instead of foreclosing, Conley said Tuesday, Wakefield plans to complete a process known as deed in lieu of foreclosure.

“The debtor, in this case M2Green, provides a deed to the mortgagor, in this case Wakefield, in lieu of having to do a formal foreclosure proceeding,” Conley said. “It’s a much faster process, and it’s another reason why I think it’s fine to proceed, if indeed it’s moving along as we’ve been told it’s moving along.”

Last November, the county approved a settlement agreement with Wakefield Kennedy, which saw the Washington lender pay roughly $967,0000 in delinquent taxes owed by M2Green on several parcels of property at the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp and paper mill.

As part of that agreement, Wakefield was expected to foreclose on 14 of the 15 lots owned by M2Green by March. While that never occurred, Conley said, Wakefield is moving forward with a second option by pursuing the deeds on some, if not all, of the parcels it was obligated to foreclose on.

“The only thing holding this up at this point are title matters and legal descriptions,” Conley said. “Usually, a legal description isn’t too big of a hurdle, but in this case, because all 15 parcels have been transferred together over a number of years, parsing out the legals for each of the parcels is going to be somewhat complicated in this particular case, and take a little time.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is testing areas of the property for potential industrial contamination and cleanup, though that process also remains in contention, as the county believes the agency’s evaluation has failed to address a number of concerns.

M2Green remains a potential responsible party if cleanup is warranted. And while Wakefield paid M2Green’s delinquent taxes for past years, the Illinois-based company is again delinquent for taxes owed 2017.

Conley said they amount to roughly $550,000.