Airport expansion plan leaves Tinicum residents up in the air

Tinicum Township's Lester section would house a UPS facility. The current facility would make way for a new runway.
Tinicum Township's Lester section would house a UPS facility. The current facility would make way for a new runway.
Posted: December 04, 2010

Dolores Waldeck paints a picture of her Tinicum Township street that would make any real estate agent's heart sing.

She moved to the tiny neighborhood of Lester about 23 years ago to be near Philadelphia International Airport so her husband, Glen, would have an easy commute home when he traveled.

The Waldecks say they love their house, which also affords them easy access to nature. They have watched turtles lay eggs along the nearby Long Hook Creek. From their deck they have seen an eagle and an osprey in an airborne fight for a fish.

Sure, Dolores Waldeck, 50, says, the noise from low-flying planes can stop a phone conversation. But she says she has never regretted living there and always considered the airport a good neighbor.

The Waldecks' house is among 72 residential properties and 80 businesses in a small community on the western border of the airport that Philadelphia wants to acquire as part of its proposed $5.3 billion airport expansion.

In response, some residents and businesses say they are unsure whether to make improvements to their properties or where to register children for school. They worry that their financial health could be jeopardized.

The Tinicum site would accommodate a UPS shipping facility that would move from its current airport site to make way for a fifth runway.

Later this month, after a decade of studies, the FAA is to officially endorse the city's plan to expand the airport in an effort to help reduce flight delays. With the green light, the city could take the first steps in the massive project.

UPS would have to agree to move and it has not done so yet. At the same time, the city would begin negotiating with Tinicum property owners.

The targeted residential section of Lester is a carefully tended cluster of twins and singles. "Not for Sale" signs have sprouted up on many - but not all - lawns.

The township regards "this as a fight for the heart and soul of the neighborhoods," said Francis Pileggi, a lawyer for Tinicum.

Opponents have formed a group - Residents Against Airport Expansion in Delco - to resist the loss of property. They have held meetings, planned beef-and-beer fund-raisers, and have a Facebook page with more than 400 members.

Township Manager David Schreiber said, "Whenever someone takes part of your town, obviously it won't be the same."

But the expansion must be a priority, said Mark Gale, the airport's chief executive officer. "While this may be an uneasy situation for those residents, we continue to believe the overall economic value of the airport and what it brings is something that needs to be seriously looked at," he said.

The city would begin discussions with homeowners to "negotiate a fair and amicable purchase" of the houses early next year - assuming FAA and UPS approvals are received, Gale said.

Though there are no discussions now, six homeowners contacted the airport last year to begin negotiations, said Victoria Lupica, an airport spokeswoman.

One of the homeowners lamenting the future is Albert Troxel, 48, who has lived in Tinicum Township his entire life. His father, grandmother, and great-grandmother are all from the township.

"Tinicum is really tight," he said. If he needs a last-minute baby-sitter, he turns to a trusted neighbor, and vice versa. They help each other with mowing lawns and shoveling snow.

Eight years ago, Troxel, who works in air freight, bought his three-bedroom twin for $90,000 and made improvements. He worries he will never be able to afford a similar house if he moves.

His daughter Dominique turns 4 this month. "I will have to sign her up for school. But where?" he asked.

Nancy Slobodjian, 68, who has lived in her three-bedroom twin on Manhattan Street for 42 years, would "rather not move." But she says she has to be realistic. She has casually started looking at other properties.

"We are human beings, not just a house," Slobodjian said. With her house already paid off, she would like a similarly sized house, moving expenses, and no mortgage. "If it has to happen . . . just be fair," she said.

Dolores Waldeck wonders how much longer she will be able to live in Lester and where to move next. With two children in college next year, the family cannot afford to go further into debt through a move.

Waldeck said it was important to her and her husband that Tinicum Township and the Interboro School District not bear a financial burden for the expansion.

"I don't know if it is better being in our situation or those [neighbors] that are left behind," she said. "They are stuck here."


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Linda Loyd contributed to this article.

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