BRIDGEPORT — Despite City Hall’s approval of a plan to build a $12.5 million heliport in Bridgeport, some residents met Tuesday to protest what they considered to be the speedy community process and to raise concerns about potential pollution in the neighborhood.
About 50 people turned up for the meeting at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, 643 W. 31st St. Representatives from the heliport's owner, Chicago Helicopter Express, were also present.
Wheeling-based Chicago Helicopter Express is looking to install 14 pads for launching and landing tour and charter helicopters along the bank of the Chicago River's South Branch. The company currently owns two helicopters. Though Chicago Helicopter Express' plan was approved by the City Council on April 2, community members still gathered Tuesday to publicly object and hear more information about the proposal.
Members from the community group Bridgeport Alliance and Pilsen environmental group P.E.R.R.O. spoke Tuesday regarding noise levels, safety and the community process surrounding the heliport.
"One of the biggest issues we've had with Chicago Helicopter Express is that we see a real lack of community engagement," said P.E.R.R.O.'s Jerry Mead-Lucero. "We think this raises serious concerns about how they’re going to operate in the community.”
Several speakers were on hand to talk environmental and legal issues. According to Seth Johnson, policy associate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, pollution levels from the heliport will be relatively low.
"Aviation fuel burns very clean. These [helicopters] are very clean in terms of public health and CO2 emissions," said Johnson, adding that a diesel truck would emit more harmful emissions than the helicopters.
But Johnson said due to the lack of available research on helicopter pollution, it would be good for the community if Chicago Helicopter Express agreed to onsite pollution monitoring before, during and after construction.
Chicago aviation attorney John Scott Hoff stressed that community members didn't have many options as far as contesting the heliport now that it has approval from both the Federal Aviation Administration and the city.
In the past, Chicago Helicopter Express CEO Trevor Heffernan has said the tour flights must follow a Federal Aviation Administration-approved path that has the helicopters rising from the riverfront helipads, then following the Stevenson Expy. as they make their way toward the lakefront, cutting down on noise and easing safety concerns of residents.
Hoff claimed the group is not required by the FAA to commit to a specific flight plan.
"So, the answer to your question, 'What kind of flight plan do you have to have?' The answer is, 'none,'" said Hoff.
But according to Heffernan, his company would have to follow a flight path designated by the city.
"Our flight path was incorporated into the approved City of Chicago Planned Development and as such ... we are exclusively limited to the flight path out to lake Michigan over I-55," Heffernan said via email.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: