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New O'Hare Runway to Open, but Opponents Vow to Continue Fight

By Heather Cherone | October 17, 2013 6:38am
 A plane takes off from O'Hare International Airport.
A plane takes off from O'Hare International Airport.
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O'HARE — Federal, state and city officials will gather Thursday to celebrate the opening of a new runway at O'Hare Airport that they say will make it safer for airplanes to take off and land.

One group that won't be joining the celebration is the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition — an organization that has been protesting the changes for months, saying the new east-west runway configuration will turn the sky above their home into a "virtual railroad track," pollute the air and lower the value of their property.

"We're not going away," said Jac Charlier, a member of the coalition. "This could happen again to us."

The group passed out 17,000 door hangers opposing the new flight path that will result from the new runway, which is part of the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan, approved in 2001. After Thursday, planes will use the new east-to-west runway to depart and arrive rather than the airport's existing diagonal runways, which can force planes to cross paths during takeoff and landing.

"We were not involved in this decision that will affect our lives significantly," Charlier said. "The plan was kept quiet, and the community was not informed."

The coalition wants the city and Federal Aviation Administration not to use the new $1.28 billion runway until an additional study of the environmental impact of the new flight path is complete, which would require additional public hearings.

Homes in the 33rd, 39th, 45th and 41st wards can expect to hear more jet noise, especially at night, after the runway opens.

The new flight path would mean that 85 percent of O'Hare arrivals and departures between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. will travel over homes in Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and North Park, neighborhoods with some of Chicago's most expensive homes.

The number of flights from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. hurtling over the Far Northwest Side is set to jump from 15 to more than 90. During the day, flights would increase from 300 to more than 400, according to data compiled by the coalition.

Much of the group's effort to block the new flight path has been focused on U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), whose 5th District includes the airport.

Quigley has not done enough to protect residents from the additional jet noise, which will hurt the area's quality of life, said Charlier, an Edgebrook resident.

"He has not come around at all," Charlier said.

In August, FAA officials rejected Quigley's request that the agency consider the group's request for another environmental study of the runway.

FAA spokesman Anthony Molinaro said in August the group's concerns did not merit another study. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment because his office was closed because of the federal government shutdown.

Quigley said Wednesday he had been working to reduce the impact the new flight path would have on residents but he believed O'Hare must expand to allow the region's economy to grow.

"I'm trying to mitigate that which everyone accepts is inevitable," Quigley said, noting that the runway and its environmental studies were approved by both federal and state officials as well as the Chicago City Council and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Quigley has asked Federal Aviation Administration officials to allow more homes around O'Hare to qualify for subsidized soundproofing, such as new attic insulation, air conditioning, exterior doors, storm doors and windows that block all noise.

The current sound level is arbitrary and should be changed based on the best science available, as well as the data gathered by a new noise monitor installed at North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Road, 10.5 miles away from the airport, Quigley said.

"Noise from O'Hare is louder and farther away than most people expect," Quigley said.

In addition, Quigley said he was pressuring the FAA and the city's Aviation Departmen to follow O'Hare's voluntary fly quiet rules, which the coalition wants to be made mandatory.

The program advocates the use at night of flight paths over less populated areas such as forest preserves and expressways.

Federal law prohibits the program from being required, Quigley said.

"I've made a simple request to spread the traffic out, rather than having it on one linear path," Quigley said. "Everyone will benefit from the expansion of the airport, so everyone should share the burden."

Quigley said he had done much of what the coalition had asked for, including inviting representatives to a meeting with FAA officials and other elected officials.

"At this point, there is not much more that can humanly be done," Quigley said. "They have a legitimate concern. I understand people are not happy."

The next new runway called for by the modernization plan is scheduled to open in 2015.