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Quigley Calls For New O'Hare Noise Study, Cites FAA 'Failure'

By Heather Cherone | June 19, 2014 3:18pm | Updated on June 19, 2014 5:43pm
 Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport.
Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport.
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Flickr/Aero Icarus

O'HARE — A Northwest Side congressman is calling on the federal government to hold a new round of public meetings on the impact of O'Hare noise on neighborhoods after a report revealed that incorrect data was used in earlier hearings. 

In addition, a local alderman says O'Hare's expansion, too, should also be put on hold until new hearings can be held.

Federal officials should rethink the flight path that has "flooded" Northwest Side neighborhoods with racket made by jets using O'Hare International Airport's new runway, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said in a letter sent Thursday to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The process was flawed," Quigley said in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago. "The best we can do now is to start over."

 A jet lands at O'Hare Airport in this file photo.
A jet lands at O'Hare Airport in this file photo.
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Getty Images/ File Photo

In the letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Quigley, whose district includes the airport and much of the Northwest Side, said officials must redo the now-decade old study of the impact of the new flight paths to and from O'Hare on the surrounding neighborhoods. 

"Impacted citizens deserve a chance to participate and comment upon the changes that have so profoundly affected their lives," said the letter, which was also signed by fellow Illinois Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Tammy Duckworth.

Heather Cherone breaks down Quigley's request and what it means for NW-side residents:

Quigley's letter was prompted by reports in the Chicago Sun-Times that found hearings a decade ago were not held in the areas of Chicago and its suburbs that have been hardest hit by noise from jets using a new runway that opened in October.

"I never felt people were informed in a meaningful way about how many flights were going to be over their homes," Quigley said. "No one ever said 'You are going to have hundreds of more flights over head,' because they knew what the reaction was going to be."

In addition, the newspaper reported that federal officials gave residents incorrect data during the hearings that understated the frequency of flights over their homes, only to correct the figures online without notice.

"The FAA’s failure to focus on areas most impacted by the [O'Hare Modernization Plan] in their public hearings and the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the information provided given the changes that have taken place since then is disappointing and calls into question the integrity of the environmental impact study process," Quigley wrote.

The congressman "strongly" urged the FAA to complete a new environmental impact study and hold a new round of hearings that "will afford vigorous citizen input," according to the letter.

In an email blast to 41st Ward residents, Ald. Mary O'Connor praised Quigley's letter and called on the FAA and the Chicago Department of Aviation to stop the expansion of O'Hare until new public meetings are held and the "impact of the program can be re-evaluated."

"I believe this federal agency has lost its credibility, and it leads me to question many of the components associated with this decade-long reorganization of the airfield, a project that has greatly impacted the quality of life for the far northwest side of the City," O'Connor wrote.

The FAA needs "needs a regulatory overhaul," O'Connor wrote.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), whose ward has been among the hardest hit areas of Chicago, said proper hearings should be held in her ward.

Residents of Sauganash and other areas who rarely heard planes traveling to and from O'Hare would have been outraged, Laurino said.

"The rules were changed in the middle of the game," Laurino said.

The old flight pattern can not be reinstated because one of the airport's diagonal runways was decommissioned when the new east-west runway opened, officials said.

The opening of the new east-west runway has sent hundreds of additional flights soaring over homes on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago and in the western suburbs that had little or no jet noise in previous years.

As part of the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan, most planes now take off toward the west, while arrivals approach from the east. 

Federal aviation officials said the flight patterns at O'Hare are designed to ensure the airport operates as efficiently and as safely as possible.

FAA spokesman Anthony Molinaro could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday but has defended the environmental impact statement as complete and comprehensive and the public hearings as robust.

Since the runway opened, Quigley said his office has been deluged with complaints about the jet noise that "has disturbed many of our constituents’ daily lives, negatively impacting their schedules, leisure activities, and even home values in areas overwhelmed with noise pollution."

Federal and city officials subverted the public process required by federal law to ensure that as few people as possible knew about the changes, said Jac Charlier, a member of the leadership team of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which has been protesting the changes for 15 months.

"It was a deliberate attempt to ensure that the plan to modernize the airport encountered the least amount of resistance possible," Charlier said. "It came at the cost of democracy."

In addition, Quigley urged the FAA to speed up its study of whether more homes around O'Hare should qualify for subsidized soundproofing, such as new attic insulation, air conditioning, exterior doors, storm doors and windows that block all noise.

Chicago Department of Aviation officials rejected Quigley's calls to extend the hours of the airport's voluntary "fly quiet" program, which urges planes to choose flight paths over less-populated areas, such as forest preserves and expressways, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The program should start at 9 p.m., according to the congressman.

In addition, Chicago aviation officials have rejected calls to spread out arrivals and departures among all of the airport runways, saying it would "simply displace noise impacts from one neighborhood to another.''

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.

"Telling constituents, who hope to qualify someday for sound insulation, that the study is not near completion after five years offers them cold comfort when jet noise is blanketing their communities," Quigley wrote.

The FAA — and the city of Chicago as well as the airlines — should work together to develop a plan that will bring "relief to our residents," Quigley wrote.

Such a plan would likely include changes to how the airspace around O'Hare is used, keep all runways open indefinitely and ask airlines to change their operations, Quigley wrote.

"Our constituents should not have to wait until the airport expansion is completed in 2020 to decide if they can endure the increase in noise pollution," Quigley wrote.

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