Were homes near airport fixed up just to be torn down?
By VALERIE RUSS
Philadelphia Daily News
SUZANNE AND THOMAS Rich long resisted taking part in the $42.5 million noise-reduction program being paid for by the Philadelphia International Airport.
While many of their Tinicum Township neighbors accepted the free sound-insulation work, Rich said she and her husband were cautious about signing a flyover agreement.
Finally, the Riches agreed to the program, and work began on Jan. 3 to install new dual-paned windows and storm windows, storm doors and central air conditioning.
The next day, the federal government approved a plan to tear down their house.
On Jan. 4, the Federal Aviation Administration approved a $5.2 billion airport-expansion plan that would demolish 72 homes in Tinicum – including the Rich home, on Manhattan Street near Fourth Avenue.
“It’s beautiful work,” Sue Rich said of the renovation project. “It’s top-of-the-line stuff. But now they’re talking about demolishing those 72 homes. I just can’t figure it out.”
Added Delores “Dee” Waldeck, who also lives on Manhattan Street in a home that would be razed: “Here they are sinking all this money into these homes they plan to acquire and destroy. It’s another example of government waste and mismanagement.”
The controversial airport expansion plan approved by the FAA this month would lengthen two existing runways and add a fifth runway, with the goal of cutting the airport’s notorious delays from an average of 10.3 minutes to 5 minutes by 2025.
But with the plan calling for 72 homes in Tinicum to be bulldozed, some have questioned the wisdom of spending millions in taxpayers’ money to insulate homes that may be demolished. Several residents said the work on their homes was valued at up to $45,000.
The area where the 72 homes are slated for demolition – Iroquois, Manhattan and Seminole streets, near Fourth Avenue – would be the site for a United Parcel Service building, according to the plan.
Victoria Lupica, an airport spokeswoman, said the sound-reduction program was approved in 2003, before the start of an environmental-review process for the expansion program. She also pointed out that the airport didn’t know when or if the FAA would approve the plan that involves demolishing the homes.
She said the airport voluntarily offered the sound-insulation improvements, “because we want to be a good neighbor and assist local residents in addressing aircraft noise.”
Most of the money for the insulation project is being paid for with a federal grant.
So far, of 522 eligible homes, work has been completed or is under way on 418. Work on the remaining 104 homes is scheduled to begin this year, Lupica said.
Of the 72 homes to be demolished, 56 were eligible for the program, and 48 have had the work done. Six of the remaining eight homes will have the work done this year, she said, while two have declined the work.
Thomas J. Giancristoforo Jr., president of the Tinicum Township Board of Commissioners, said the township plans to appeal the FAA’s decision.
“I think the sound-insulation programs for the homes they want to purchase wasn’t worth the taxpayers’ dollars,” Giancristoforo said. “Why even do the program if they were looking for expanding the airport?”
But David Schreiber, Tinicum’s township manager, said the program is good for the homeowners.
“It could be years before these homes are demolished,” Schreiber said. “Maybe nothing will happen. Just because the FAA has approved it doesn’t mean it may go forward.”
Ken Smith said that when he and his wife, Carol, moved into their Manhattan Street home 25 years ago, “the windows would rattle like crazy” every time a plane flew over.
On his own, Smith put in double-paned windows about 12 years ago. The Smiths decided to accept the sound-insulation program a couple of years ago.
“It used to be if you were talking and an airplane flew over, you had to stop your conversation and wait,” Carol Smith said.
Kim and Al Troxel, who live on Manhattan Street, several houses up from the Riches, have refused to allow the airport to work on their home.
“My husband doesn’t want anything to do with the airport,” Kim Troxel said. “Nothing’s for free. It’s always a catch. They’re going to take our homes and say we just gave you all these improvements.”
Kim Troxel said she doesn’t want to leave the area. Like many homes on these three streets, there is a blue-and-white “Not for Sale” sign in her yard.
On Iroquois, Donna and Hank Hox had insulation work completed nearly two years ago.
They said airplane-noise levels inside their home have been greatly reduced.
“I can’t complain,” Donna Hox said, before adding that the noise reduction “has been countered by an increase in air traffic” over the neighborhood.
Hox described the town as “a little bit like Andy of Mayberry. We even have a barbershop up the street.”
“Where are we going to get the same standard of living,” she said, “and not just standard of living, but the same standard of community?”
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