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O'Hare Runway Dismantling To Be Delayed as City Meets With Fed-Up Residents

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

O'HARE — City officials agreed Monday to delay closing a diagonal runway at O'Hare Airport while they meet with Northwest Side residents angry about the constant roar of planes over their houses.

City aviation officials will meet three times in the coming weeks with the leadership team of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition to discuss ways to reduce the jet noise that the group contends has lowered property values and made it impossible for Northwest Side residents to watch television, sleep or enjoy their yards, said state Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Jefferson Park.)

"We need to sit down and have these conversations," said Martwick, who brokered the agreement after the Legislature rejected a bill authored by state Sen. John Mulroe (D-Norwood Park) that would have prevented airport officials from dismantling the runway that many residents see as the last chance to spread out the air traffic — and reduce the racket over the Northwest Side.

Heather Cherone says this is a big deal for NW-side residents:

Representatives of the Chicago Department of Aviation and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment Monday from DNAinfo Chicago.

City officials will "ask the FAA to delay any action on the diagonal runways at O’Hare that would lead to irreparable damage to the runways," according to the agreement.

Jac Charlier said the agreement — which was ratified by a joint resolution adopted Sunday by the Illinois House and Senate — was a "huge victory" for the coalition, which has been pressing city officials to change the flight paths that have sent hundreds of flights over parts of the Northwest Side that heard little or no jet noise before October 2013, when a new east-west runway opened.

"We are finally going to have our seat at the table that has long been denied to us," Charlier said.

The first meeting, which is expected to be scheduled in the coming days, will give the coalition an opportunity to present solutions, Martwick said. The second will be reserved for discussion and the third will be designed to find a solution, he added.

"No one has talked to them for two years," Martwick said. "One meeting was not enough."

The three meetings with the coalition's leadership team will be in addition to the four public hearings scheduled to be held this summer to discuss the opening of a new east-west runway set for this fall, Martwick said.

The agreement preserves the group's right to be heard about the fate of the diagonal runways, Martwick said.

"We don't want them to go out and pull a Mayor Daley," Martwick said, referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley's decision to tear up the runways Meigs Field under the cover of night.

Federal Aviation Administration officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening about the agreement.

While another bill designed to keep the diagonal runway in use was approved by lawmakers and is now headed for Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk, Martwick said it didn't do enough to address the "traumatic and profound" impact the jet noise has had on people's lives.

That bill would allow O'Hare to operate 10 runways — instead of eight — and impose stricter noise monitoring measures.

"It is like they severed someone's artery and handed them a Band Aid," Martwick said.

The diagonal runway had been set to be decommissioned Aug. 20 to make way for another east-west runway scheduled to open Oct. 15.

That could send even more air traffic over Edison Park, Norwood Park, Jefferson Park, North Park and Sauganash, where residents heard little to no traffic before an east-west runway opened in 2013, according to the coalition.

Two weeks ago, city officials began dismantling the diagonal runway, removing equipment that helps pilots touch down safely during bad weather, despite the debate raging in Springfield.

In March, 352,846 complaints were filed with city officials — an all-time record and a nearly 893,000 percent increase from the number of jet noise complaints filed in January, according to data released by the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

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