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O'Hare Noise Forced Us to Spend $15K Nest Egg on Soundproofing, Family Says

By Heather Cherone | November 20, 2014 5:45am
 Colleen Mulcrone — who found her Jefferson Park home under the flight path of planes using a new runway at O'Hare Airport — has spent $15,000 to soundproof it to protect her children.
O'Hare Noise Soundproofing
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JEFFERSON PARK — For 11 years, Colleen Cichon-Mulcrone and her husband socked away every penny they could, hoping to renovate the Jefferson Park home where they planned to raise their two children and put down deep roots.

But as they waited for City Hall to issue the permits they needed to get started, a new runway opened at O'Hare Airport, sending nearly 300 planes a day over their formerly quiet neighborhood, and throwing their lives into noisy chaos.

"The day the runway opened Pete, my husband, and I turned to each other and said, 'Oh, my God,'" Mulcrone said Wednesday. "It was awful."

Heather Cherone says the jet noise has the family considering a move:

 A plane files over the Mulcrone house Wednesday morning.
A plane files over the Mulcrone house Wednesday morning.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

The couple put their renovation plans on hold, concerned that their house's location in the airport's new flight path would send its value plummeting, Mulcrone said.

"We did everything right," Mulcrone said, her voice shaking with anger. "We did everything a responsible homeowner and community member should do, and something very tangible has been taken from us. And no one seems to care."

The Mulcrones tried to adjust to the jet noise, most from planes approaching the airport to land on a new east-west runway built as part of the expansion plan that city, state and federal officials said was designed to make O'Hare safer and more efficient — while boosting Chicago's economy with more business travelers and tourists.

But after a month of sleepless nights and stop-and-start shouted conversations over the roar of jet engines, Mulcrone went looking for answers.

After getting no help from the staff of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission — who told Mulcrone she might be eligible for subsidized soundproofing after the O'Hare Modernization Program was completed in 2020 — Mulcrone and her husband decided to take matters into their own hands.

"I just couldn't live with it anymore," Mulcrone said.

In January 2013, Mulcrone and her husband paid Soundproof Chicago $7,000 to soundproof her 5-year-old daughter's and 2-year-old son's room by adding an extra pane of glass to the windows, as well as a second layer of drywall and a layer of "green glue" designed to soak up and deaden sound, she said.

"I'm glad we did it," Mulcrone said. "But I'm angry that we had to do it."

A few months later, the couple spent another $8,000 to soundproof the windows in their living room and dining room so they no longer had to shout to hear their themselves, or blast their television so their son can watch his beloved Curious George, Mulcrone said.

But even though the soundproofing has helped, Mulcrone's china still rattles when an especially loud and heavy plane flies over her house in the 5500 block of West Leland Avenue.

"My quality of life is drastically different in a bad way," Mulcrone said, adding that she wished she and her husband had been able to spend that $15,000 as they had hoped and planned rather than on soundproofing.

Mulcrone files a complaint with city officials every time a plane causes her house to shake, but tries not to count every plane flying overhead.

"It makes me crazy," Mulcrone said. "But I can't let it suck up anymore of my life than it already does."

Between October 2013 and September 2014, more than 180,000 jet noise complaints were filed by residents disturbed by jet noise.

Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta said the three-year-long study of the environmental impact of the O'Hare Modernization Program "was one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses we have ever conducted" and the agency followed the law in notifying residents in affected areas of the changing flight paths.

Homeowners within areas deemed by local aviation officials as experiencing high levels of jet racket — known as a noise contour — can qualify for federally subsidized soundproofing, including new attic insulation, air conditioning, exterior doors, storm doors and windows that block all noise.

But the O'Hare noise contour map won't be changed to reflect the new flight paths until the approximately $10 billion O'Hare Modernization Program is completed in 2020, and Far Northwest Side homeowners like Mulcrone won't be eligible for subsidized soundproofing until 2025.

"Thanks for nothing," Mulcrone said.

In addition, a study by Federal Aviation Administration officials to determine whether more homes should to qualify for free soundproofing is scheduled to be completed in mid-2016.

The FAA is also working to complete an assessment of whether more environmental studies are needed to determine the impact of a runway scheduled to open in October 2015 on noise and air pollution.

The Mulcrones talk "every other day" about selling their home and starting over, she said.

"The noise has thrown everything into flux," Mulcrone said. "The thought of having to start over again is heartbreaking. We love this area."

Mulcrone said what bothers her the most is the reluctance of elected and appointed officials to listen to complaints like hers — and solve the problem.

In March, Mulcrone joined the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition — an organization that has been protesting the changes at O'Hare for more than 1½ years, and said finding other people suffering under the onslaught of jet noise has been a blessing.

"Without FAIR, we would have no voice," Mulcrone said. "No one else is listening."

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