Florence Residents Settle Lawsuit Over A Troublesome Pa. Landfill

Posted: December 29, 1998

FLORENCE — Settling years of litigation, Waste Management of Pennsylvania has agreed to give $3.1 million to Florence residents, who filed a class-action lawsuit last summer over a landfill that sits across the Delaware River in Tullytown, Bucks County.

The residents alleged that for years the heaps of garbage from the landfill, which is about 500 yards from Front Street in Florence, assailed their senses, producing gamy odors, dust, noise and hordes of birds that degraded the quality of their lives and the value of their homes.

The settlement, presented in U.S. District Court in Camden last week, came on the heels of another deal announced two weeks ago, in which Waste Management pledged $2 million for public-works projects in Florence.

Greg Lee, who moved to Florence in 1987, six months before the landfill opened, said it was the major reason his family left town last year. Because of the move, he said, he lost ``a considerable amount of money'' when he sold his home, and his commute to work in Philadelphia stretched from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

``I chose my home in Florence because it was near the river and I grew up next to a river. That's something I miss every day now,'' Lee said. ``Florence was a wonderful place to live. The community was really nice, but the landfill was just too much for us.''

Lee is among the current and former owners of 961 properties in Florence who might receive slices of the $3.1 million pie, minus legal fees. During the next several months, those owners will submit applications to a class-action administrator who will assess the decline in value of their properties. A federal magistrate will determine the size of legal fees.

Until then, lawyers in the case said, no one really knows how much money the residents will get.

As part of the settlement, Waste Management also pledged to continue to reduce noise and odor from the landfill, clean marinas and boats in Florence, and keep garbage from sight through landscaping, said Norman Shabel of Mount Laurel, one of the lawyers who represented the residents. In exchange, 20 of the residents agreed to release a separate claim filed in 1996 against the company.

The agreement ends a string of litigation that dates to the late 1980s. Several townships in Pennsylvania tried unsuccessfully to quash Waste Management's application for the landfill's permit in 1987. Florence gave litigation a try in 1996, but the case was dismissed last spring.

``This settlement was not of recent vintage,'' Shabel said. ``It's taken a long, tenuous path to get here.''

Princeton-based lawyer Edward Borden, who represented Waste Management in last week's settlement, said the company decided to settle because of the risks and costs of further litigation.

``The landfill is fully permitted and fully sound,'' he added. ``But what was important to Waste Management was to get itself in a cooperative mode with Florence and residents rather than an adversarial one.''

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