CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel told representatives of an anti-O'Hare Airport noise group Wednesday that he will not reopen the diagonal runway closed six months ago, despite pleas from residents who contend it is the only way to reduce jet noise over the Northwest Side.
Emanuel's refusal to reconsider his staunch support of the expansion of the airport meant the long-awaited meeting between the mayor, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans and representatives of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition was a "waste of time," said Colleen Cichon-Mulcrone, a leader of the group.
The mayor "has failed the people," Mulcrone said in a post-meeting news conference on the fifth floor of City Hall.
"The mayor does not care and will not use his influence to help the people of the City of Chicago and the suburbs," Mulcrone said.
"He does not care about the devaluation of our property. He does not care about our health. He does not care about our children's health. He does not care about the destruction of these communities. That is going to be his legacy unless he chooses to do something different."
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), who arranged the meeting, said the mayor's statement about the future of the diagonal runways "deflated the balloon" of the meeting, which had been positive up to that point. Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) also attended the meeting.
While the coalition sees the runways as the last, best chance to reduce the roar of jets over the Northwest Side, city officials contend the runways — built in the 1950s — are "fatally flawed" and pose a safety threat to airline passengers throughout the city, Evans said after the meeting.
In 2014, federal aviation officials restricted the use of diagonal runways as part of an effort to reduce the chance of midair collisions near airports, Evans said.
The diagonal runway on the east side of the airport — closed to air traffic in August — will be demolished this spring, and the diagonal runway on the west side of the airport will be closed in 2019, officials said.
Two other diagonal runways — one on the north side of the airport, the other on the south — will be used when weather conditions require, Evans said.
The approximately 60-minute meeting Wednesday was a long time in the works. The coalition asked to meet with Emanuel 23 times since 2013 before he agreed to sit down with the group.
The $8.7 billion O'Hare Modernization Program sent hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side, including North Park, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park, that previously heard little or no jet noise before an east-west runway opened in October 2013.
Emanuel 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.
An ordinance authored by Napolitano that would halt the airport expansion seeks to halt the building of more runways and force O'Hare officials to reopen the closed diagonal runway immediately. That measure is awaiting a hearing by the City Council's Aviation Committee.
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