MOULTON — Courtland floated the bonds for International Paper — then Champion — as far back as the 1960s, but should not be responsible for the estimated $200 million left to be paid on the debt, a committee said this week.

A group the Lawrence County Commission appointed to examine the impact of the plant's closing on the county said a bond attorney it hired reached that conclusion. IP officials have been mute about the bonds and plans for the site once it is shuttered.

Regardless of who pays, Courtland Mayor Clarence Logston said his town will feel the pinch.

"(International Paper) can pay the bonds off any time it gets ready," he said. "But some of our revenue comes off the bonds. That will affect the city."

Courtland will continue to receive an annual payment of more than $700,000 for administering the bonds — almost half the town's revenue — as long as IP maintains the bond payment.

According to property lease terms, IP has the option to purchase the 2,200-acre site after paying off the bonds.

"We don't have control," Logston said. "IP's got control of everything going on."

David Ringelstein, of Birmingham-based Balch & Bingham, reviewed the bonds with committee members Larkin Martin and Tim Littrell. Martin said the attorney was funded by private donors.

Ringelstein said IP's bond issues for the land and mill facilities date to the 1960s and have been re-issued several times.

"We have not researched whether or not the bond holder is the company itself. It's unclear whether or not that's to third parties or something the company held," he said.

About 500 employees were laid off last week, while about 200 will remain on-site for an unspecified period to operate beyond the shutdown, mill spokeswoman Laura Gipson said. The last two paper machines were turned off for good at the end of January.

"The business has determined that certain equipment at Courtland will need to operate beyond the shutdown of the paper machines to support the transition of products and customer services to other locations," Gipson said.

Committee member Ted Letson, who served as mayor of Courtland when the original bonds were floated, said IP has handled plant closings in several ways.

"They have paid the bonds off, and they have turned the property over to the industrial development board. That's been done before," he said. "You don't really know what they're going to do."

IP also has maintained bond payments and reopened mills to manufacture different products.

Beyond the bonds, committee members said in November that if all personal property is removed by October 2015, county budgets could lose an estimated $1.7 million payment in lieu of taxes. The county's general fund could lose as much as $400,000, while the school system could lose about $900,000. Budgets could be affected as early as fiscal 2016.

"The bottom line is what is done with that site is up to IP. All the decisions are really in their court related to the future of the site," Martin said.

Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2442 or mqualls@decaturdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @DailyMeredith.

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(1) comment

Pamela Blakely

The scary thing is saying that Courtland "should not be responsible" is not the same as "is not responsible."

I hope they did not rush into something.

IP has been a much better corporate partner than the "Decatur" industries in the Decatur Police Jurisdiction. Most of them provide Decatur and Decatur City Schools almost nothing in tax dollars, but are part of the huge tax drain on Decatur citizens who provide their police and fire protection for free.

Nucor is the exception. Nucor is the best corporate partner Decatur has.

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