Van Ness Feldman represented International Paper, a global leader in the paper and packaging industry with manufacturing operations in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and North Africa, in a contribution action brought by the Port of Olympia related to a “legacy timber mill site” at the Port formerly owned and operated by a predecessor company of IP for many years. The Port was claiming over $20 million in response costs for cleanup of the site in conjunction with redevelopment of the area into a waterfront park, childrens’ museum, and hotel complex that required application of the most stringent cleanup standards under state regulation.
VNF defended IP’s position that: (i) the Port owned and operated the site for at least 47 years, (ii) the site had been in heavy industrial use for over 100 years and numerous other operators had industrial facilities at the site, and (iii) the site was now being developed into a use requiring residential cleanup (as well as the removal of substantial unstable dredged fill materials that had been placed by the Port). As such, IP asserted that the Port of Olympia should bear a significant share of the actual cleanup costs, which IP also asserted should not include any costs of development, thus reducing the overall liability to be allocated by the parties. IP was aware that if the Port filed suit and established IP liability, which was not contested, IP could be held liable for 100% of Port attorney fees, regardless of the amount the Port obtained in a contribution award.
The parties entered mediation in May 2013 and, despite difficult negotiations, the Port agreed to a final settlement of $3.0 million (with a full site release), approximately half of what it believed IP owed in contribution at the time, and without the benefit of a final cleanup determination.