Residents of Homes Built on Landfill Win $75M Judgment

Group of New Orleans residents has been fighting for compensation for decades
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 17, 2022 9:45 AM CDT
Residents of Homes Built on Landfill Win $75M Judgment
EPA Administrator Michael Regan, center, listens as resident Shannon Rainey speaks during tour of Gordon Plaza neighborhood in New Orleans, on Nov. 17, 2021.   (AP Photo/Matthew Daly, File)

A group of New Orleans residents whose homes were built on a toxic landfill decades ago have won a $75.3 million court judgement against the city, its housing authority, and the local school board. State district Judge Nicole Sheppard's ruling said 5,000 residents are entitled to that total amount for emotional distress and property damage involving the former Agriculture Street landfill, according to the Times-Picayune. Sheppard's ruling said the housing authority and the parish school board were liable for building two residential communities—Gordon Plaza and Press Park—and Moton Elementary School atop the landfill.

Homes in the area were built in the 1970s and 1980s and marketed to Black, low- and middle-income residents who weren't told that the site was a one-time landfill, the AP reports. As awareness grew and environmentalists raised concerns, the area was named a federal Superfund cleanup site in 1994. Amid reports that the soil was contaminated with lead and carcinogens, including arsenic, residents began a decades-long effort to be relocated at government expense. Dozens of mostly Black families still live in the area. "This is a big deal for the residents of Agriculture Street," said Suzette Bagneris, a lead attorney representing residents.

Last November, EPA Administrator Michael Regan toured the site while making a five-day "Journey to Justice" tour that highlighted low-income, mostly minority communities adversely affected by decades of industrial pollution. Bagneris said the $75 million will be apportioned based on factors including the number of years each resident lived in the affected places and the locations of their homes. While pleased with this week's court ruling, one resident questioned whether the final number would be enough to help residents relocate. Still, "it’s good news that will hopefully get some of us off this nasty landfill,” said Jesse Perkins, a member of the Residents of Gordon Plaza Inc. nonprofit. (More New Orleans stories.)

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