O'HARE — In his first comments since a new runway opened at O'Hare International Airport and inundated the Far Northwest Side with jet noise, Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged federal aviation officials to speed up a study that could turn down the racket.
In a letter released just before the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Emanuel urged Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta to "expedite ... with the utmost care and haste" a study that could 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.
Heather Cherone details the mayor's first response to Northwest Side complaints about noise around O'Hare's new runway:
That study, which could lower the noise threshold that has to be met before federal and local officials will foot the bill for soundproofing, is scheduled to be completed in December 2015, according to Emanuel's letter.
But Emanuel's letter "misses the mark," said Jac Charlier, a member of the leadership team of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which has been protesting the changes at O'Hare since the new east-west runway opened in October 2013.
"After 15 months, it is good to hear the first words from the mayor," Charlier said. "But this is just a small piece of a much larger issue."
A spokesman for Emanuel did not respond Monday to questions about the letter or to questions about why the mayor has not responded to the coalition's seven requests to meet with him.
"Thousands of his constituents have been impacted, but the mayor has been completely and totally nonresponsive," Charlier said.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) called for the FAA to hold a new round of public meetings on the impact of O'Hare noise on neighborhoods, saying studies 10 years ago did not make it clear that the new runway would send hundreds of flights over homes in neighborhoods that had little to no jet noise for decades.
Charlier said he had little hope that the sound-level study Emanuel wants to be sped up would be any more accurate or complete than the studies completed a decade ago when the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan was under consideration.
"The voice of impacted residents still has not been heard," Charlier said.
The new runway allows planes to take off and land without crossing paths with other jets while on the ground, which aviation officials say will reduce delays. Most planes now take off toward the west, while arrivals approach from the east.
The flight patterns at O'Hare are designed to ensure the airport operates as efficiently and as safely as possible, according to federal aviation officials.
The number of complaints to the city-run toll-free noise hotline rose 645 percent from March 2013 — before the new runway opened— to March 2014, according to the most recent data released by the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
Residents say the new flight patterns have destroyed their quality of life, made it impossible for them to sleep or enjoy their yards and lowered their property values.
In his letter to the FAA, Emanuel said O'Hare Airport "drives the economic engine of the Chicago area."
The modernization plan — which Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) said should be put on hold until new studies are completed — is "necessary" and will add 195,000 jobs and contribute $18 billion to the region's economy, Emanuel wrote.
Emanuel's letter acknowledges that as the modernization plan progresses, "some of our residents in Chicago and our surrounding communities are struggling with aircraft noise.
"We are working with our federal partners to understand the extent and magnitude of the problem," Emanuel wrote, without mentioning specifics. "The Department of Aviation works hard to be a good neighbor and balance the quality-of-life issues of residents with O'Hare's economic vitality in the Chicago region."