Landfill operators and the city of New Orleans will pay $8 million to hundreds of property owners whose land became one of the region’s busiest landfill sites after Hurricane Katrina.
The class action suit was filed in 2007 by landowners who purchased lots for a future development decades earlier. The development—situated on a former landfill that closed in the 1980s—never materialized and, in 2005, the Old Gentilly landfill opened and quickly began taking in as much as 100,000 cubic yards of waste on its busier days.
According to the Joel Waltzer, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, while the city of New Orleans believed it owned the land, it actually belonged to hundreds of landowners who purchased the plots in the hopes that three different subdivisions would be built in the future. Waltzer says that most of the landowners didn’t even know their land had been turned into a landfill until he started filing suits. In reality, 80 percent of the landfill was privately-owned, and the city was still mailing property tax bills to those property owners even while spreading waste over the land in a lucrative deal.
Landfill operators AMID/Metro Partnership were charging $3.50 per yard to accept waste at the site, according to Waltzer, and it is unclear how much waste—including debris from Hurricane Katrina—that landfill has taken in since 2005. The operators’ deal with the city allowed AMID/Metro to keep 97 percent of the funds it generated with 3percent being paid to city in “landowner” royalties.
Walzer says a fund has already been set up to pay the settlement, and each property owner will be compensated about $1 per square ft. plus a flat fee, for an average payout of about $12,000 per property owner. One plaintiff in the suit had paid $6,000 for four lots in the 200-acre parcel in 1981. Additionally, the settlement clears the property owners from any environmental liabilities that might arise from the property and transfers full ownership of the lots over to the city of New Orleans.
“While hurricane debris had to go somewhere, the landowners here certainly deserve the premium the settlement provides.” Waltzer says of the settlement, “As a whole, this is a “win-win” for all the parties.”
Attorneys and fees associated with the class action suit will eat up about 25 percent of the $8 million settlement.
The city has released no official statement on the settlement, but has already filed a motion in district court to keep the terms of the funding of the settlement confidential. A hearing is also set for April 13 to ensure the fairness of the settlement.