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Some Bridgeport Folks Want Heliport To Pack Up And Leave Town

By Ed Komenda | January 11, 2016 6:24am
 At a Dec. 22 community forum, Chicago Helicopter Experience CEO Trevor Heffernan showed neighborhood folks the concept for a
At a Dec. 22 community forum, Chicago Helicopter Experience CEO Trevor Heffernan showed neighborhood folks the concept for a "Phase 2" design that would give helicopter pilots more room to take off.
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DNAinfo/Ed Komenda

BRIDGEPORT — If Nancy Wing knew she’d be living next door to a heliport seven years after she bought her house on Mary Street, she would have never moved into the neighborhood.

“Oh my God,” she often says when she hears the slap of helicopter blades echoing through the vacant lot near 2420 S. Halsted St., the home of the Chicago Helicopter Experience. “Can we rest?”

Wing is one of many concerned residents who live near the heliport, a tourism company that makes its money giving passengers aerial views of Chicago and Lake Michigan in flying machines that happen to make a lot of noise.

In 2014, when company CEO Trevor Heffernan introduced his plan to build the heliport in Bridgeport, residents met him with mixed reactions, worried the noise might be too much.

Though Heffernan has told the public his company is doing all it can to curb the noise — even rolling out a "Phase 2" design that would give helicopter pilots more room to take off — some neighborhood folks would rather see Chicago Helicopter Experience disappear all together.

John Hui is one of them.

He has lived in Bridgeport for more than three decades and now lives in Wing’s neighborhood — a collection of houses just west of the heliport called “Bridgeport Landing.” From the windows of the some houses, you can see — and hear — the helicopters taking off and landing several times a week.

The neighborhood is near the Dan Ryan and Stevenson Expressways and the Orange Line El tracks. Hui knew he could expect some big city noised when he moved to town.

But nothing can compare to a helicopter, he said.

Susan Gong, a 50-year-old factory worker, is one of Hui's neighbors.

She lives even closer to the heliport in a house on South Senour Avenue. From her back windows, peering past a vacant lot, she can see the Chicago Helicopter Experience sound barrier.

But the barrier, Gong said, doesn't do much to shield noise, often swept into her neighborhood by the wind.

"It's too loud," she said.

Since the heliport opened, Gong, who wakes up at 4 a.m. every day to make breakfast and get to her job by 6 a.m., has had trouble getting to sleep at night.

She went as far as getting medication from her doctor to help her sleep at night.

“It’s wrong for the heliport to be there in the first place,” Hui said. “Believe me: We’ve sent tons of emails to the owners.”

Some of those emails deal with the noise.

“Our community has been significantly impacted by CHE’s loud noises especially at night,” reads one email written by a Bridgeport man named Philip Huang. “People can’t sleep at night, baby waking up by the loud noise during sleep… what kind of quality of life CHE is expecting the community to have?”

Though the noise isn't as loud in the winter — when the windows are closed and the air is thinner — Wing and her neighbors are dreading the spring and summertime, when the windows are open, and it’s often difficult to talk with family members at the dinner table without the chop-chop-chop of helicopter blades interrupting conversation.

“When they built the heliport,” Wing said, “they did not think about the neighborhood and the peace here.”

During last year's 11th Ward aldermanic race, outgoing Ald. Jim Balcer's decision to support the controversial heliport project was a flashpoint for voters. Many residents said the project was rushed and they weren't given enough warning.

At a candidate forum last January, Patrick D. Thompson said he was "against the heliport at that location."

The helicopter company — named Chicago Helicopter Express at the time — had been presented with a "covenant" to operate under certain guidelines. If the company were to break that pact, Thompson said at the time, "we go after them pursuant to the law."

Thompson was not available for comment about the most recent rash of complaints.

Despite the complaints, Chicago Helicopter Experience has boomed.

At a community meeting on Dec. 22, Heffernan, a trader turned helicopter boss, told a handful of neighborhood folks the company has already served 10,000 people.

At the same meeting, one resident said he was worried helicopters would be flying around his neighborhood 24 hours a day, seven days a week — a concern based on something he saw on the Internet.

Heffernan said those hours of operation are a misconception and blamed the media.

“Don’t read into everything you read," Heffernan said. "What they write is not what I said, whether there’s quotes on it or not… They write whatever they want to write, so I always encourage you to ask me. We’ve been through this time and time again with multiple reporters. I’ll say it’s available 7 days a week, and they’ll write it’s 24/7 for instance."

But if you hop on the official Chicago Helicopter Experience website and click on the “CHARTERS” tab, you’ll find this sentence, which describes the charter tours as a “24/7” service:

Neighbors say Heffernan's quibbling is just smoke and mirrors to make the operation seem more neighbor-friendly than it is.

You can find other examples of this in the company's early literature, which includes a two-page "Heliport Facts" sheet shared with locals that says, "No helicopter will ever be flying within 2,300ft of a home."

The truth is some houses of Bridgeport Landing — like Gong's home — are less than 1,600 feet from Halsted Street. From the sound barrier? Less than 1,000 feet.

“I understand you have a business to run, but please understand that there’s a vast amount of residential houses in there that got small kids and families," one man told Heffernan at the Dec. 22 meeting.

"We don’t fly late," Heffernan said. "And if it’s an issue, let us know, but we don’t fly early and we don’t fly late. We haven’t. So, again, like I’ve always said, let’s not argue about things that don’t exist."

Neighbors like Wing feel discouraged and feel they've run out of options. With no plans to move away, Wing said she hopes the heliport closes soon.

"That would be the happiest day of my life," Gong said.

"We tried to fight it," she said. "Our words were not heard."

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