CITY HALL — A city ordinance that sought to halt the expansion of O'Hare Airport was soundly rejected Thursday by the City Council Aviation Committee.
The measure would violate federal law and threaten the safety of passengers flying into and out of Chicago, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans told the 11 aldermen on the committee.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) cast the only vote in favor of the measure, which he said was designed to address the "overwhelming noise crisis" that engulfed the Northwest Side after a a new east-west runway opened in October 2013.
Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward has been among the hardest hit by jet noise, as well as Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), whose office has been deluged with jet noise complaints, voted against the measure.
Evans and other city officials said the measure would not reduce the roar of jet planes over areas like North Park, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park that previously heard little or no jet noise.
However, Evans and other city officials said the measure could force O'Hare to close, costing the city millions in federal funds, and forcing thousands of airport employees out of work.
That drew catcalls from the audience who wanted to see the measure sent to the full Council for debate.
Napolitano — elected nearly a year ago after vowing to do more to reduce the racket he said has lowered property values throughout the 41st Ward — said it was "nonsense" to argue that the airport would close if the Council was given oversight of runway construction.
"It's driving people crazy," Napolitano said of the noise that many residents say makes it impossible to watch television, sleep or enjoy their yards.
The measure echoed demands made by members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, who want city officials to reopen the diagonal runway on the east side of the airport, arguing it is the only way to reduce jet noise over the Northwest Side.
"We're not trying to hurt business at O'Hare," Napolitano said. "We cherish O'Hare."
But city officials contend the diagonal runways — built in the 1950s — are "fatally flawed" and pose a safety threat to airline passengers, citing FAA regulations limiting the use of converging runways.
Jeffrey Levine, an attorney in the city's Law Department, said the city could expect to be sued if the ordinance was adopted.
Evans said the introduction of newer jets with quieter engines as well as the opening of a sixth east-west runway set to be built in 2020 would spread out jet noise and reduce the burden on Northwest Side residents.
However, April Fishback, a 39th Ward resident, said she doubted that extra runway would help her get a good night of sleep.
"Spreading the noise out is not a solution," Fishback said.
Other Northwest Side residents who attended the three-hour-long meeting scoffed at Evans' suggestion that they take their concerns to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
"The ONCC deals with the interests of [suburban] mayors — not Chicago," said Donald Walsh, who lives in the Indian Woods community near Edgebrook.
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.
Mayor Rahm 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 wallets — driving the city's economy.
In January, Emanuel announced a deal to build a sixth east-west runway at O'Hare and complete the expansion of the airfield.
After city officials rejected pleas to keep the diagonal runways open in July, they announced the airport would weekly rotate the runways used at night in an effort to diffuse the noise.
A plan to implement that rotation is expected to be approved Friday by the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
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