BRADENTON, Fla. — U.S. Bankruptcy Attorney Thomas Bennett issued a 79-page order Friday confirming his verbal approval of Jefferson County, Ala.'s Chapter 9 exit plan.
The order becomes final after a 14-day appeal period has passed.
Two groups of attorneys representing ratepayers of the county's sewer system have said they are considering appeals.
However, an appeal likely would be difficult because Bennett's order does not delay implementation of the sewer debt adjustment plan.
The confirmation order overrules all objections to the plan, including those challenging the county's right to adopt a 40-year sewer system rate structure. It also dismisses all legal challenges, including those filed by the objecting ratepayers.
Also abolished by the order are two appeals pending in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and three state court actions — two in New York and one in Alabama — "each of which raises difficult and complex issues," Bennett said.
The "compromises and settlements embodied in the plan are fair, equitable, reasonable, and in the best interests of the county, creditors, and other persons," the order said.
It also sanctioned restructuring of the $3.2 billion of defaulted outstanding sewer warrants, which will be written down with proceeds from $1.8 billion of new sewer refunding warrants priced on Tuesday.
Bennett said authorizing the sewer debt restructuring "moots the relief requested in the ratepayer claims purportedly asserted in the Wilson action and the Bennett action."
Closing on the new warrants is scheduled Dec. 3. The old warrants, which were subject to ratepayer suits, will be cancelled.
One unique factor underpinning the county's plan, and contained in Bennett's order, is that the court retains jurisdiction to oversee "implementation, interpretation, and enforcement" of it.
Jefferson County has promised to implement sewer system rate increases over the next 40 years to support payment of the 2013 warrants. If the county defaults or fails to increase rates to service the debt, the trustee can get an order from the court compelling the county to cure the default.
Before the plan is effective, Jefferson County, Ala., must finalize agreements with creditors.
Bennett's confirmation order and all court documents are available at www.jeffersoncountyrestructuring.com.