A five-year disagreement between the Philadelphia International Airport and its neighbors has finally been put to rest, clearing a major barrier for a multiyear, multibillion-dollar expansion project to move forward.
City officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, made the deal official Wednesday, signing documents that will compensate Tinicum Township, Delaware County and the Interboro School District for land use, tax revenue and business relocation.
“I’ll acknowledge that there’s many more pieces that still need to be addressed, but this was one step in the process, and I’m very happy that we were able to agree with our friends and neighbors in Tinicum Township and Delaware County,” said airport CEO Mark Gale.
“Friends” might be a bit optimistic.
After a previous agreement ended in 2007, the airport stopped paying tax revenue to its neighbors, and stalled negotiations ultimately led to a lawsuit filed in 2009.
“What happened was, when they came in to negotiate, there was no negotiations,” said Mario Civera, chairman of Delaware County Council. “It was like, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and that’s how the lawsuit started.”
Tinicum Township officials also were concerned about residents being squeezed out by the airport’s expansion.
Now, the township, county and school board parties will divide $1.86 million in tax revenue annually. Residents will not have to move, and the city will lease land from the township for $1 million a year.
“I lost a lot of sleep,” said Tom Giancristoforo, president of the Tinicum Township board of commissioners. “But, we got there. We were persistent on things that we wanted, and things we wanted protection from, and that’s what took so long.”
“I don’t believe we gave up a thing,” he added. “We’re finally made whole. I think we’re getting what we deserve financially.”
Civera commended the township on playing hardball to get what it wanted. Even up to two weeks ago, he said, he didn’t know if the board would approve the agreement. He said he’s relieved to finally reach a conclusion.
“Are the residents 100 percent happy? I don’t believe they are, that’s a large margin to achieve, but the majority of them are,” said Civera. “I think at the end of the day, it was a decent settlement, I really do. People weren’t being asked to leave, they weren’t being condemned, so it worked out.”
As the airport expands, one of the first projects will be to erect sound wall barriers that will protect residents from the noise. The airport has already soundproofed some homes nearby, Gale said, and a federal program is also in place to provide that service.
Before the expansion project can move forward though, it still must be approved by the Federal Aviation Admission. Then, Gale will begin negotiations with the airline carriers and UPS, which has a major facility located on airport grounds.
The airport received permission to expand one of its runways in late March, in order to accommodate larger planes that fly to more distant locations.
Other details of the expansion include an additional runway, more cargo space, the relocation of the UPS facility, and upgrades to the terminals.
The expansion could take up to 15 years to complete.