This Christmas story comes with large teeth – in the dozens of alligators that a couple say are ruining their use of property they own in rural Mississippi.
Tom and Consandra J. Christmas claim in a lawsuit that they didn’t know about all the alligators – at least 84, they say – living next to the 35 acres of land they bought in December 2003 in Wilkinson County.
The gators are coming from a refinery waste disposal site owned by ExxonMobil, according to court documents.
ExxonMobil argued the couple waited too long to file their lawsuit, and last week the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
The ExxonMobil site, called the Centreville Landfarm, contains 19 rainwater retention ponds with about 85 surface acres of water, according to a court document. It’s been around for decades but the operators stopped accepting new refinery waste in the 1990s.
The gators “were allegedly introduced to the site as ‘canaries’ to warn of hazardous contamination in the retention ponds,” according to the document.
In August 2008, the Christmases sued, alleging that runoff from the site contaminated their property and that the ExxonMobil site was infested with alligators. A trial court granted summary judgment in ExxonMobil’s favor in 2011, and the suit was shelved. The Christmases dropped the contamination angle of the suit on appeal, but maintained that all those alligators were really too many.
The Christmases admit they knew there were gators in the area when they bought their property – Mississippi has a reputation for really big ones – but say they didn’t know just how many were on the ExxonMobil land until 2007 when they were allowed on it to search for a lost dog.
ExxonMobil said the statute of limitations on a lawsuit had run out, but the state appeals court ruled in May that the couple’s case focusing on the alligators could proceed.
Neighbors say the Christmases have a case. "It's dangerous,” Louis Franklin told WAFB-TV this summer. “I used to sit outside a long time ago and lay on my picnic table and go to sleep or whatever. Now you can't do it."
First published December 8 2013, 2:17 PM