No deal reached in Gordon Plaza relocation struggle, talks to resume Friday

Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 9:50 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Residents of Gordon Plaza in New Orleans said Monday (April 17) they are not satisfied with the terms of the city’s settlement offers to move them to homes free of toxic chemicals.

A federal law has driven a wedge in the negotiations.

Monday night’s task force meeting, providing an update on the acceptance of settlement offers given to homeowners last week, showed a sharp divide remains. But because the city plans to turn the housing development into a solar farm after residents are relocated, federal laws are restricting their buyout power.

“When the meeting is over, the people in this room will be going back to a hazardous waste landfill,” said Gordon Plaza activist Angela Kinlaw.

The housing development was declared a superfund site by the EPA in 1994 after soil and air testing found toxic amounts of hazardous chemicals there.

Last year, an Orleans Parish judge approved a $75 million settlement for the residents. New Orleans’ City Council approved an additional $35 million settlement in payouts.

Residents got their offer letters last week. But on Monday, residents and the task force couldn’t resolve their differences.

“Anything that anyone says they’re going to do, our effort is to be next-level relentless about ensuring it happens,” Kinlaw said. “Because people’s lives are on the line.”

City Council president J.P. Morrell said that because the city is planning to build a solar farm on the Gordon Plaza site, there are certain federal restrictions to consider, including a cap on lump-sum relocation payouts.

For a one-bedroom home, the relocation payout is not to exceed $600, Morrell said. A two-bedroom homeowner could see $800. A three-bedroom homeowner could be paid a one-time relocation sum of up to $1,000. The scale goes up to an eight-bedroom home, capping the lump-sum relocation at $1,900.

Residents said they were not satisfied with the scale, but Morrell said there is room for flexibility if the homeowner chooses itemized reimbursement.

“The law is very clear. That number for reimbursement is not capped,” Morrell said. “It’s not capped in the law, because if you provide the government with the actual receipts, we can reimburse you for those costs. It then gives the alternative, or ‘lump sum,’ and the lump sum is the number we keep citing.”

Residents argued it is unfair for them to have to front the costs of moving, saying the money would be needed immediately to afford their next bills after relocation.

“So, it’s really OK if people need to process how to problem-solve this, to address it to move it forward,” Kinlaw said on behalf of the residents.

The residents and relocation task force agreed to resume talks Friday at 1:30 p.m.

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