BRIDGEPORT — That a grassroots public forum about the Bridgeport heliport is taking place after City Hall OK’d the controversial project matters little to the residents hosting the meeting.
“It is the meeting we [all] should have had in the first place. It is an opportunity for residents to say what is they wanted to say in the first place, even if it is falling of deaf ears, and to hopefully have some of our questions answered too,” said organizer Rene Paquin with the Bridgeport Alliance. “But yes, it’s mostly symbolic in nature.”
Co-hosted by Bridgeport Alliance and Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, the meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, 643 W. 31st St.
Organizers have invited several speakers to attend, including sound experts and attorneys in the environmental and aviation fields. They're expected to cover issues of noise, safety and impacts to the local economy.
Representatives from tour operator Chicago Helicopter Express have been invited, but it's unclear if they'll attend.
While many South Side residents have embraced plans for the heliport in the 2400 block of South Halsted Street, others remain suspicious the facility will be busier than the company has indicated in literature and public meetings.
On its website, Chicago Helicopter Express says it provides several types of services, like flights to golf courses, local airports and industrial sites for aerial inspections. Those services, company CEO Trevor Heffernan has said, aren't part of the business plan at the Bridgeport facility, where he said 15 to 20 tour flights will launch daily.
But not everyone is convinced.
“The evidence is overwhelming that this was always meant to be a helicopter hub for rich guys,” said Bridgeport resident John Tominello, 57, who lives less than a mile from the site.
“You don’t need 14 helipads and 125 flights a day or storage for helicopters if you're planning to send 20 doodle-bugs up and down the lakefront, like they say. Why do they have 14 helipads?”
Tominello said several residents are banding together to explore “some legal and political options” to stop the construction “because this was done in such an unprofessional and untruthful way.
"We intend on fighting and we won't give up until the last brick is laid," he said.
The Wheeling-based company's plans call for 14 pads for launching and landing the company's tour and charter helicopters and the creation of a hangar, observation deck and riverside water taxi dock.
The tour company has touted its new location near the CTA Orange Line, Stevenson Expressway and busy Halsted Street as a win-win: Tourists looking to take the 18-minute flights will have plenty of ways to arrive in Bridgeport, and the approved flight plan keeps tour helicopters away from residential areas.
Still, the plan continues to draw opposition from Chinatown, Pilsen and Bridgeport residents who say the operation, which records show would include 125 flights per day at peak capacity, will disrupt their lives.
The Pilsen environmental group has called the facility a “sonic assault” on the neighborhood, which will soon see another nearby helicopter development when the Illinois Medical District’s Vertiport begins operations.
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