O’HARE — Residents of the Far Northwest Side fed up with the racket made by jets using O'Hare International Airport's new runway will get a chance to tell federal officials to put a sock in it.
A referendum sponsored by Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) will allow voters to weigh in on whether Congress should allow more homes to qualify for subsidized soundproofing, such as new attic insulation, air conditioning, exterior doors, storm doors and windows that block all noise.
Laurino said Thursday she was pleased the City Council agreed to put the non-binding referendum on the November ballot and give residents of her ward a chance to be heard on an issue that they contend is having a profound impact on their quality of life and property values.
O’Connor said the referendum would allow residents to tell federal officials more should be done to reduce jet noise.
Members of Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition — a group that formed a year ago to object to a new runway at O'Hare that has resulted in more noise in some neighborhoods — said they were pleased the referendum will appear on the ballot. But representatives of the group said more must be done to reduce the hundreds of flights over their homes in neighborhoods that had little or no jet noise in previous years.
“We welcome the referendum,” said Jac Charlier, a member of the group’s leadership team. “But it doesn’t substitute for real discussion.”
The referendum — as well as a long-delayed Chicago City Council hearing with federal officials as well as representatives of the city’s Department of Aviation — does not address the basic issue that the flight path changes were made without input from the residents whose quality of life has been significantly reduced because of noise pollution and dropping home values, Charlier said.
“We are demanding a seat at the table to develop solutions,” Charlier said. “We haven’t been heard. We want to address how the planes are allocated.”
Landing and departing planes must be spread more equitably among the airport's runways to prevent Norwood Park, Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and North Park from bearing the brunt of the jet noise, according to the group.
Laurino said she would continue to press federal officials to address her constituents’ complaints.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Laurino said, adding that she plans to continue working with U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) to find a solution. “We’re trying our best. We need to keep the conversation going.”
The coalition has asked to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel seven times, Charlier said, with the most recent request sent Thursday. The mayor’s office has not responded to any of the requests, Charlier said.
“This is ridiculous and indicates dysfunction in the mayor’s office,” Charlier said.
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, did not respond to questions from DNAinfo Chicago about jet noise caused by the new runway configuration or whether Emanuel planned to meet with the group.
O’Connor said the group’s voice has been heard, but the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan — which includes the new runway — was approved in 2001 and cannot be reversed.
“I’ve been very honest with everyone,” O’Connor said. “I don’t know if they will get a seat at the table. That is what the aldermen are for.”
The hearing, requested by O’Connor and Laurino, has been delayed in part because there is a question of what can be done to change the flight path of airplanes arriving at and departing from O’Hare, O’Connor said.
“This is not going to be quick,” O’Connor said.
The new runway, which opened Oct. 17, allows planes to take off heading west, while arriving planes approach the airport from the east.
Federal Aviation Administration officials have said the new runway configuration will be safer and more efficient, especially during bad weather at O'Hare. Before the new runway opened, most planes used O'Hare's diagonal runways, which often forced the planes to cross paths on the ground.
Both federal and local aviation officials have been reluctant to revise the way planes are directed to take off and land because of concerns about noise.
The map that outlines the amount of sound expected in areas around the airport will be updated once the airport modernization project is complete in 2020, officials said.
A study that could result in more homes qualifying for soundproofing is underway but has no estimated date of completion, FAA spokesman Anthony Molinaro said.
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