03/23/05 — Stop suits: Build or buy at your own risk?

View Archive

Stop suits: Build or buy at your own risk?

Some property owners and public officials up in Chesapeake, Va., are considering an idea that would help developers and protect the Navy from lawsuits stemming from noisy aircraft.

At this writing, 2,000 lawsuits have been filed against the government by property owners in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake over noise from low-flying military aircraft.

Owners of 53 acres near Fentress Auxiliary Landing Field are offering to give the government an “avigation easement” over the property.

The easement would give Navy pilots the “perpetual and unconditional right” to fly over homes built in the proposed residential development.

Such easements could apply only to undeveloped property, not existing homes.

People buying homes in properties under development in the areas affected by loud noise would be required to sign statements saying they were aware of the easements.

Many of the existing suits were filed by property owners complaining that F/A 18 Hornet fighters assigned to Oceana Naval Air Station in 1998 and 1999 create so much noise that the value of their homes has been greatly reduced.

That problem could well be exacerbated when the Navy assigns another eight squadrons of Super Hornets there in the future. It also says it will put two Hornet squadrons at Cherry Point in North Carolina.

The Navy has not warmly embraced the “avigation easement” approach. It is holding out for a ban on construction of any new homes in the affected area.

At least from one point of view, the “avigation easement” idea makes sense. It seems reasonable that a person should not compensated for pre-existing conditions known to him or her at the time property is purchased.

The military, at the same time, must be concerned that future aircraft could present noise problems far greater than those existing at the time nearby property is developed.

Of particular concern to the Navy at present is discussions of developing land adjoining an auxiliary field near Fentress, Va., where the jets train for aircraft-carrier landings. The extremely noisy jets would scream in just 800 feet above homes.

Anyone building or buying a home under those conditions should be made aware of the problem — and be prepared to accept the consequences without any expectation of compensation from the military.

Published in Editorials on March 23, 2005 11:29 AM