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Walker, Cullman Counties to benefit from state’s lawsuit settlement with Tyson Foods

The state of Alabama has reached a $3,025,000 settlement with Tyson Foods for a lawsuit alleging the company illegally discharged partially treated wastewater in May and June of 2019.

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced the settlement on Wednesday. Funds from the litigation over the spill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River will be directed to specific projects in affected communities. Terms of the settlement also require Tyson to take steps to prevent future harm.

Marshall believes the outcome of the suit adequately addresses local concerns.

“I am pleased to finally be able to tell the communities of the Mulberry and Sipsey Forks that the state has resolved this matter,” he said in a statement from his office. “Though my Office was ready to go to trial, I am convinced that this agreement prioritizes the concerns that I heard from locals and gets money into the right hands quickly.”

Under the settlement, Tyson will provide $1.5 million to the affected Walker and Cullman County communities. These funds will be administered by a five-member committee of local residents named by Marshall’s office.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who represents communities affected by the spill, cited the work done between his constituents and the attorney general’s office as leading to an appropriate settlement.

“I’m pleased to see that the state of Alabama has successfully reached this multi-million dollar settlement to make the people of our area whole after the wastewater spill in 2019,” Reed said. “A large portion of these dollars will go directly to Walker and Cullman Counties to be used for the benefit of our community and to support those affected by this unfortunate incident. It was an honor to work with members of our community and the Attorney General’s office to ensure that the state reached a successful settlement agreement, and I look forward to seeing all of the benefits these resources will bring to our area.”

In addition to the money placed in trust for those counties, Tyson will pay restitution and a civil penalty totaling $1,000,000 to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

Tyson will invest $500,000 to increase public access to Mulberry Fork and fund a $25,000 grant to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Water Watch.

ADEM Director Lance LeFleur outlined that it was important for the people who live near and use the river to be given priority in the settlement.

“The local communities suffered the most,” he stated. “A fine exacts a cost against the company, which is appropriate. But it alone does nothing for the local residents. The $500,000 for public recreational access to the river and $1.5 million in other investments provide value to the community and, I hope, help heal wounds and begin building trust.”

The lawsuit said the spill occurred due to pipe failures, which resulted in the killing of various species of fish and other wildlife downstream of the facility.

LeFleur said the settlement holds Tyson accountable for the environmental damage the spills caused, compensates the state for the loss of fish and commits the company to making an investment that will benefit both the environment and the local community.

The settlement agreement takes the form of a consent decree, meaning that the Walker County Circuit Court will maintain jurisdiction over the matter, ensuring that its terms are met.

Resolution of the state case does not bar private suits against Tyson from proceeding.

“Our state’s natural resources are sacred, and my Office takes very seriously our role in protecting them,” Marshall concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia