TISHOMINGO — A six-person jury has awarded families in southeastern Oklahoma more than $73 million in damages for a sewage discharge that contaminated their land and several creeks in 2006.
The verdict, reached Tuesday in Johnston County, included $13.2 million in actual damages and $60 million in punitive damages. The two defendant companies, Oklahoma-based Mehlburger Brawley Inc. and Arkansas-based B3 Inc., failed to show up for the trial.
Johnston County Associate District Judge Charles J. Migliorino has yet to finalize the awards and could lower the amounts. Migliorino declined to comment on the case.
“The jury voiced a clear message that water is one of the most valuable natural resources and that must be respected,” Trae Gray, one of the lead plaintiffs' attorneys in the case, said in a statement.
More than 10 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was illegally pumped into three creeks in October 2006 during an upgrade of sewage lagoons for the town of Mill Creek. B3, an excavation and construction company, and NRS Consulting Engineers, a unit of Mehlburger Brawley Inc., were the contractors on the project. State officials issued the town a notice of violation that pumping by B3 exceeded the amount of wastewater that could be discharged into Three Mile Creek, a tributary of Mill Creek.
The town's public works authority reached a settlement with affected landowners in 2009.
Gray said some of landowners had to move off their property because their sole source of household water was Mill Creek. It was too costly for them to be serviced by a nearby rural water supply, he said.
“The families still do not feel comfortable going into the creek or swimming in the creek,” Gray said.
Ava Converse said her father bought property on Mill Creek in 1961 and the farm holds significant memories for her family.
“The jury's decision sent a clear message that what B3 and MBI (Mehlburger Brawley Inc.) did was disrespectful as well as wrong,” Converse said. “The verdict gives us some peace as it relates to our dad's legacy.”
The jury's decision sent a clear message that what B3 and MBI (Mehlburger Brawley Inc.) did was disrespectful as well as wrong. The verdict gives us some peace as it relates to our dad's legacy.”
She said her father bought property on Mill Creek in 1961 and the farm holds significant memories for her family.