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Rahm Vows To Come Up With Plan to Address O'Hare Noise

 An advocacy group said little action has been taken on local jet noise complaints.
An advocacy group said little action has been taken on local jet noise complaints.
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Flickr/ Jim Wissemes

NORWOOD PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Thursday "to come up with a plan" that addresses jet noise on the Northwest Side and consider keeping less-noisy diagonal runways.

Emanuel said he would pressure the Federal Aviation Administration "to achieve the combined goal of maintaining O'Hare's role as an economic engine for our city and maintain a high quality of life for those who live near the airport."

Emanuel faces Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in Tuesday's mayoral runoff. Garcia has pledged to prevent the diagonal runways from being taken out of service if elected.

"The mayor is open to all options that seek to achieve both of these goals and will continue to pursue action from the FAA so that we can get answers and get them fast," according to a statement from his office.

Garcia, who has met several times with members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, has made no secret of his effort to turn residents' anger about jet noise in their neighborhoods into votes for him. Garcia has met with members of the coalition three times and signed on to their agenda.

While Garcia and anti-O'Hare noise advocates said Emanuel could do much more to turn down the racket, the mayor's office maintains federal aviation officials have the power to make the final call.

Jac Charlier, one of the coalition's founding members, said he was pleased that Emanuel appears to be softening his position on maintaining O'Hare's remaining two diagonal runways, the first of which is scheduled to be decommissioned in August, as airport officials prepare to open a new east-west runway in October.

If one or both of the diagonal runways is closed, the skies above Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Sauganash and North Park could be even noisier, according to members of the coalition. Residents in those neighborhoods heard little to no jet racket before the east-west runway opened in 2013.

Charlier said it's not up to federal officials to determine runway usage at O'Hare.

"All solutions to this issue fly through the mayor's office," Charlier said. "The mayor owns this issue. He has been silent far too long."

Garcia's campaign Thursday blamed Emanuel for burdening Northwest Side residents with "two years of broken promises, bad choices and wrong priorities on this critical quality-of-life issue."

Garcia echoed the coalition's leaders and criticized Emanuel for seemingly putting federal aviation officials in the cockpit.

"The City of Chicago owns O’Hare — and the city, not the FAA, has the power to make decisions about O’Hare runway use," according to a statement from the Garcia campaign.

Emanuel's spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the mayor would ask state officials to change the law that approved the O'Hare Modernization Program, which limits the number of runways in use at O'Hare to eight.

Flight patterns at O'Hare are designed to ensure the airport operated as efficiently and safely as possible, federal aviation officials said.

In the 41st Ward, which has been among the hardest hit by the new jet noise, more than 5,000 early votes have been cast through Wednesday, the most of any ward in the city. In the 45th Ward, which has also been inundated with jet noise, more than 3,000 early votes have been cast.

Both wards also feature hotly contested aldermanic runoffs. Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) is locked in a tight battle for re-election with Chicago firefighter Anthony Napolitano, and Ald. John Arena (45th) faces Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido.

Charlier said he was confident that anger about the city's response — or lack thereof — to jet noise is driving residents to the polls.

"This issue is a huge deciding factor for a huge number of voters on the Northwest Side," Charlier said. 

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