Settlement in Toledo Airport Nuisance Suit

SEPTEMBER 18, 1999

About 105 homeowners irritated by excessive aircraft noise near Toledo Express Airport have agreed to a $4.6 million settlement with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. The settlement, approved yesterday by the port's board of directors, ends a legal battle that began in 1993 and threatened to bankrupt the port authority.

A visiting judge in Fulton County Common Pleas Court ruled in April that the port authority created a nuisance in enticing Burlington Air Express, now BAX Global, Inc., to locate an air-cargo hub at the airport. In Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Judge Robert Christiansen found in July that the port authority was not immune from liability.

"I think it's a very good settlement," said Jerry Chabler, a port board member. "It saves the port authority and the taxpayers a helluva lot of money."

The board approved two settlements: one with the homeowners, the other with an insurer that had balked at covering the port authority's liability in the noise case. Coregis Insurance has agreed to pay $3.5 million, settling a U.S. District Court lawsuit that the port authority had filed against the company. An insurance consortium known as the London Cos. has agreed to pay $200,000, leaving the port authority on the hook for the remaining $900,000 of the $4.6 million settlement.

The port authority will dip into its $2.9 million reserves to come up with the $900,000, said James Hartung, the port authority's president. That leaves the reserve "tissue-paper thin," he said.

In hopes of recovering the $900,000, plus about $1.5 million in legal expenses associated with the case, the port authority is pressing ahead with a U.S. District Court lawsuit against the London Cos. If successful in the litigation, the port authority could restore its reserves while paying off its legal expenses.

David Zoll, attorney for the homeowners, emphasized that more than money was involved in the settlement. Besides agreeing to pay $4.6 million, the port authority committed to performing a study that would determine whether BAX Global could reroute its departures over less densely populated areas. In addition, the port authority, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval, will establish sales-assistance and purchase-assurance programs for some of the homes exposed to the most aircraft noise.

"Responsible airport operators accept responsibility for the damages created by the noise generated by the airport operations," Mr. Zoll said in a statement. "The commitments made by the port authority in the settlement agreement place it in the ranks of responsible airport operators."

The port authority, despite agreeing to the settlement, continues to deny any wrongdoing or legal responsibility in connection with noise at Toledo Express, Mr. Hartung said. But Mr. Zoll stated that the settlement "illustrates a recognition by the port authority that airport expansion should not be at the expense of a few. While jobs are important, so is the quality of life of people living in the community."

Michelle Kranz, another attorney representing the homeowners, declined to disclose how the homeowners will divide the $4.6 million. Homeowners contacted yesterday afternoon declined to comment.

Source: Toledo Blade