Tennessee Homeowners Offered Settlement
in Class-Action Suit Against Airport

MARCH 20, 1997

The Commercial Appeal (Neighbors, page SE1) reports that the Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority in Tennessee has offered an $18 million settlement to homeowners who have sued over airport noise and pollution in a class-action suit. Homeowners balked at the offer, saying it was terrible.

According to the article, the lawsuit was initiated in 1989 by the United Airport Residents on behalf of 27 Shelby County and DeSoto County residents. In 1993, the lawsuit gained class-action status. The homeowners said the $225 million airport expansion project damaged property values and harmed quality of life.

The Airport Authority's settlement offer proposes that the sale of about $18 million in revenue bonds would purchase "aviational easements" that would give the airport the right to fly planes over the homes in affected areas, according to attorneys representing homeowners. The article says that although airplanes already fly over the homes, the easements would legalize it and give residents compensation, according to Eugene Greener, one of the attorneys for homeowners.

The article reports that residents balked at the settlement offer. Pat Reviere, a Southaven resident, said, "That's a terrible offer." Reviere conceded, however, that the offer was a step, because it marked the first time the Airport Authority had offered dollars. However, Riviere said the amount of compensation offered is not sufficient because homeowners want enough to be compensated for their lost property values. Other residents want the airport to buy their homes.

According to the article, if the money were evenly divided among the homeowners of the 12,000 parcels in the affected areas, each would get $1,500. However, Greener said some residents would get more money than that, and others would get less.

Meanwhile, Airport Authority president Larry Cox would not comment on the settlement offer, the article reports. The airport already has bought nearly 1,300 homes in Whitehaven, Oakhaven, Charjean, and Southaven since 1989, spending $115 million as of last October. The airport has no plans to expand the buyout area, the article reports.

Residents in the area report that life is very different in their neighborhoods since the airplane noise has increased. Ruby Imelda Garland, who lives in Gardenview in southeast Shelby County, said the aluminum siding in front of her eaves has a stain on it from jet fuel. Some mornings, she said, she can smell fumes when she walks out her front door. Paintings and mirrors have fallen to the floor from the plane vibrations, she said.

Pat Reviere of Southaven said vibrations from passing planes jar the nails loose that hold his shed together. He just hammers them back in. Louie and Anna Yeldell, who bought their Oakhaven home in 1964, said they tried to sell their house when the aiplane noise got louder. "We tried for four months to sell," said Yeldell. "We had four people to look at it, no offers. We took it off the market."

MARCH 16, 1997

In an editorial the Commercial Appeal says that residents involved in a class-action federal lawsuit over airport noise and pollution from the Memphis/Shelby County Airport should take the $18 million settlement offered by the airport authority and put an end to the litigation.

The editorial reports that if the settlement offer is accepted, the money would be paid to the owners of 12,000 parcels of land. The owners would get an average of $1,500 each, although some would receive more and some less, the editorial says. Many of the residents involved in the lawsuit have scoffed at the offer, demanding a much higher compensation or a buyout. Brian Glass, an area resident, said of the offer, "It's a joke. It's a slap in the face to the community." Eugene Greener, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, has said that the offer is a "step forward." To raise the money, the editorial reports, the airport authority would sell about $18 million in revenue bonds, and use the funds to buy "aviational easements," giving the airport the right to fly over the high-noise areas. The acceptance of the offer would bring an end to the lawsuit.

The editorial also mentions the buyout program that the airport authority has had underway. The authority has bought 1,289 homes in Whitehaven, Oakhaven, Southaven, and the Charjean community since 1989, at a cost of $115 million. However, the editorial asserts, there should be limits to a buyout program.

The editorial claims that thousands of homes have been built in areas surrounding the airport in the past 20 years, and that everyone should have known that the airport was expanding and that more flights would cause more noise. For example, the editorial points out, in 1984, more than 100 homes were built just 1,000 feet south of an airport runway. Willard Fletcher, former airport authority president, said at the time, "Airports attract development like a dog attracts fleas. Developers build homes, people buy them and then they start complaining about the noise. That's the sequence, and not just in Memphis."

As early as 1976, the editorial says, the city's Office of Planning and Development issued a study that showed even then that "noise exposure forecast" ratings surrounding the airport were unacceptable for residential areas. The city recommended then that land near the airport be used for parks or other open space, but homes were built instead.

The editorial asserts that draining the airport authority of all its money that could be used for expansion or shutting down enough flights so residents could sleep without noise would eliminate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity in the area. The editorial says that Memphis would be a dying city without its transportation and distribution network, with the airport at the center of that network. Still, the editorials says, the airport authority has been committed to responding to noise problems.

The editorial recommends that the airport authority's offer is likely the best outcome for both sides, and advises the homeowners to take the offer, especially in the face of the difficulty of winning their case in court. If the offer is accepted, the editorial argues, homeowners will get compensation they might not get through the courts. The editorial ends by saying that the noise of the airport is the noise of economic growth, and we'd better hope we continue to hear it.