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Rahm to Meet with Anti-O’Hare Noise Group -- After 23 Requests

By Heather Cherone | January 22, 2016 11:04am | Updated on January 25, 2016 8:24am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel will meet with O'Hare noise activists.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will meet with O'Hare noise activists.
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O'HARE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel will meet Wednesday with representatives of an anti-airport noise group to discuss the impact of jet noise from planes traveling to and from O'Hare via east-west runways, officials said Friday.

The Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition has asked to meet with Emanuel approximately two dozen times dating back to 2013 when the group formed to fight new flight paths at O'Hare. The new flight paths have sent hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side like North Park, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park that previously heard little to no noise.

During the meeting set for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, group leaders will tell Emanuel "what people have been forced to live with for over two years" and demand he immediately make changes to airport operations to reduce the noise over the Northwest Side and surrounding suburbs, said coalition leader Helen Rosenberg said in a statement.

The group holds Emanuel responsible for turning the sky over their homes into a "virtual railroad" by changing the way flights approach and depart O'Hare as part of an effort to modernize the airport's operations.

The group campaigned against Emanuel's bid for a second term as mayor. Regardless, Emanuel won 60 percent of the vote on the Far Northwest Side in the April runoff.

On average, 300 planes fly over the Far Northwest Side every day, rattling homes' walls and making it impossible to hear the television, play outside or speak, residents say. Nearly 4 million complaints about jet noise have been filed with the city since November 2013, data shows.

The mayor has been a steadfast supporter of the airport expansion, which he has repeatedly said is needed to ensure that Chicago continues to attract the business travelers and vacationers — along with their fat wallets — that drive the city’s economy.

Adam Collins, a spokesman for Emanuel, said the mayor "is committed to engaging a range of stakeholders regarding the future of O'Hare Airport, and looks forward to this upcoming meeting."

However, Collins did not respond to a question about why Emanuel finally agreed to meet with the group.

The coalition credited Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) with pressuring the mayor to meet with representatives.

The scheduling of the meeting comes at a time when Emanuel's political standing has been significantly weakened in the wake of the release of a dashcam video showing a police officer fatally shoot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Emanuel also faces a looming strike by the Chicago Teachers Union and a $480 million hole in the budget of the Chicago Public Schools that could force 5,000 teachers to be laid off.

The group has repeatedly asked city officials to reopen the diagonal runway on the east side of the airport, contending it is the only way to reduce jet noise over the Northwest Side.

However, city officials contend the diagonal runways — built in the 1950s — are "fatally flawed" and pose a safety threat to airline passengers.

The diagonal runway on the east side of the airport was closed in August, and the one on the west side of the airport is scheduled to be closed in 2019 before the final east-west runway is built.

After city officials rejected pleas to keep the diagonal runways open in July, they announced the airport would rotate the runways that are used at night in an effort to spread out the noise that many residents say keeps them from getting a good night's sleep.

A plan to implement that rotation is being crafted by a special committee of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, with its final recommendations expected soon.

The coalition also wants local aviation officials to expand O'Hare's "fly quiet" program, which currently encourages — but does not require — pilots and air traffic controllers to choose to fly over expressways, industrial areas and forest preserves to reduce the noise over residential areas at night.

A measure introduced to the Chicago City Council earlier this month by Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) would halt the airport expansion and immediately reopen the diagonal runway.

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