CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The long legal battle that followed the March 2015 hillside collapse at Yeager Airport came to a close Wednesday when a settlement was announced at the airport board meeting in Charleston.
The man-made hillside that created the airport’s safety overrun area collapsed into Keystone Drive swallowing up several houses and a church building. There were no injuries.
A few months later the Yeager board filed a lawsuit against 15 companies that played a role in the original $23 million construction that was completed in 2007.
Board chairman Ed Hill told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting the $14.8 million settlement, from which Yeager clears about $8.3 million, doesn’t make the airport whole but it helps.
“We’re just glad to get this behind us. The litigation is entirely over. We did not have to go to trial. There are no appeals. The settlement takes the uncertainty out of it and we are looking forward to further enhancing this airport in a very big way,” Hill said.
The board’s finance committee plans to meet next week to approve a $585,000 loan payment to Summit Bank which was taken out after the collapse to help with airport operations and a repayment of $400,000 to the Kanawha County Commission. Yeager used much of the money to help Keystone Drive residents in the weeks and months after the collapse.
“We put them in hotel rooms and gave them spending money. It was the right thing to do,” Hill said, giving much of the credit to the county commission.
Yeager Airport Manager Terry Sayre said it’s a big relief to get the legal action settled.
“It just takes up your life. It takes up your time. There are just so many moving parts that you have to deal with,” Sayre said, who came on board at Yeager shortly after the collapse.
Hill said it was complicated litigation against engineering firms, design and supply companies and insurance companies. He said the biggest hurdle was finding enough money among those companies to actually be able to collect for damages.
“There were bankruptcies filed. There was inadequate insurance. We find out there was bonding but the bonds were inadequate,” Hill said. “The challenge was finding the finances to make this settlement happen.”
Hill said the collapse was not the fault of Yeager Airport.
“We had trusted engineers back when we entered into that project and as it turned out there were some things that should have been done that weren’t done that we were not aware of and it resulted in this calamity occurring,” Hill said. “We trusted the people we hired to do this. I think this settlement vindicates Yeager Airport and the management here.”
According to Hill, Yeager’s losses included American Airlines canceling a popular flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.
“That income was over a million dollars. That’s just one of the losses we had to absorb,” he said.
Contractors are now rebuilding the hillside with a projected completion date of August. Geofoam blocks are being used in that construction as fill. A new Emass plane stopping system will also be installed.
Sayre said Yeager has rebounded nicely with passenger counts on the increase the last two years. It was reported Wednesday that enplanements were up by 7.9 percent in March.
Three law firms represented Yeager in the civil suit. Bailey, Javins & Carter LC; Powell & Majestro PLLC; and The Segal Law Firm will receive a total of $5.1 in contingency fees and more than $1.3 million for research and preparations associated with the lawsuit.
The original lawsuits were combined and put before the state’s Mass Litigation Panel.