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Divide among neighbors in sewer buyout zone about when to move away

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POSTED: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 5:04am

Residents of the University Place subdivision are finally moving out.

Nearly a year after the city-parish approved a settlement to get them away from the unhealthy conditions caused by the sewer plant in their neighborhood, some of them have found new homes.

But not everyone is eager to move.

"You know, it's understandable that after 20 years there was a distrust for the city-parish government," stated Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks Daniel.

Last March, the Metro Council approved a buyout that would pay roughly $6 million to dozens of families who lived near the North Wastewater Treatment Plant. Banks Daniel admitted that the process moved slowly for the first several months. Since the settlement is governed by a consent decree signed in federal court, its administrators used formal, complex language which often frustrated and confused homeowners.

"All that was resolved in November," Banks Daniel said, "and it's been flying ever since." 

After being unified in their fight for better living conditions for nearly two decades, the community is now split into two distinct groups.

"After 20 or more years, some folk have gotten older, and they're just ready to get out of this mess," said Greg Mitchell, whose mother owns a home directly across the street from the plant. "And then there are some who will stay in the fight until the end. We have a number of residents who have agreed, 'hey, I'm not going anywhere until things are taken care of respectably and decently for my family.'"

Mitchell said his family wants to fight for more money for their home, but he is in the minority. According to the most recent bi-weekly report prepared by the city-parish, of the 41 families ho live in the buyout zone, offers have been made to 37. Thirty of those offers have been accepted, while only one was rejected.

"And I actually met with that family [Thursday]," Banks Daniel noted, "and we believe that we can resolve those issues." 

Of the 30 accepted offers, only 11 sales have been completed.

"They're ready to go, but they haven't found that ideal home," Banks Daniel stated.

According to the terms of the settlement, the families were to be offered compensation for their home that did not take into effect the proximity of the sewer plant. Then agents hired by the city-parish would help them find new homes of comparable value. Mitchell claimed that part of the process has been a significant holdup for many homeowners.

"Some of the properties that have been shown to some of the residents have been very deplorable, in deplorable conditions," he said.

In addition to the value of the home, each family is offered up to $46,000 for moving expenses.

"That amount is set aside to take care, not only of your relocation, but if you can't find a comparable home that matches the price that your home is appraised, that then they can go up some more and find you a proper home," Banks Daniel explained.

Most of the families in the settlement have lived in University Place for generations, so the real estate market has changed a lot since they last went looking. But their long fight for a fair place to live is nearing its end.

"I'm happy for the residents; they suffered for a very long time," Banks Daniel said. "The environmental injustice is well documented. And I'm just excited that they have an opportunity to start over."

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