$24 million ruling upheld against airport panel

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Apr. 29--A state appellate court has denied an appeal by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority of a $24 million judgment stemming from a decade-old eminent domain case.

The agency that runs the Lehigh Valley International Airport was hit with the judgment in September after years of haggling over the value of 632 acres it took from a developer in 1996.

Authority Executive Director George Doughty had no comment on the Commonwealth Court ruling made Tuesday, saying he needed time to study it before deciding on a course of action.

Allentown attorney Kevin Fogerty, who represents developer WBF Associates -- the New Jersey developer awarded the money -- said the ruling comes as little surprise.

"Everything that has been appealed in this case by the airport authority has been denied," Fogerty said. "It's been going on for 13 years. We'd just like to get our money."

Fogerty said for every month the payment is delayed, the amount grows by close to $90,000 because of penalties and interest.

The case stems from a 1994 plan to expand the airport onto 1,500 acres in Allen and East Allen townships in Northampton County and Hanover Township in Lehigh County.

Part of the acreage was slated for a new runway, with the rest earmarked to prevent residential development in fly-over zones.

The airport authority's planned expansion included 200 acres of a total 632 owned by WBF, causing the developer to abandon plans to build more than 1,400 homes and a golf course on the land.

The developer filed suit in 1996 and two years later a court agreed that the airport expansion plans amounted to seizing WBF's land through eminent domain. The court ordered the authority to pay for the whole parcel, though none of the 2,200 acres had been purchased or taken by the authority.

The judgment Commonwealth Court upheld Tuesday includes $10.4 million for the land and an additional $14 million in interest and damages.

In September, Doughty said the Federal Aviation Administration eventually will shoulder the cost of the award.

The FAA issues grants to cover land purchases, Doughty said at the time, and has reimbursed the airport authority for most of the land purchased for LVIA.

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