Citizens group says 2 public meetings on new O’Hare runway ‘totally inadequate’

SHARE Citizens group says 2 public meetings on new O’Hare runway ‘totally inadequate’

The leader of a citizens group Tuesday blasted as “totally inadequate” a plan to hold two public meetings on how the October opening of a new O’Hare International Airport runway will affect air traffic over homes.

Even members of the Technical Committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission were “kind of gobsmacked” and “in shock” after a representative of the Federal Aviation Administration told them about the plan Tuesday, 41st Ward commission representative Catherine Dunlap said.

Dunlap noted that the scope of work for a $2.8 million Chicago Department of Aviation contract to evaluate the impact of the new parallel runway called for “four large-scale public meetings” this July or August.

If only two meetings are held, “I don’t think people will be happy,” Dunlap told the FAA Tuesday during the Technical Committee meeting.

Jac Charlier, of the Fair Allocation in Runways citizen coalition, known as FAIR, later called the two public meetings “totally inadequate” given the record complaints about jet noise since O’Hare started its transition from using mostly crisscrossing, diagonal runways to relying on mostly parallel ones.

FAIR has repeatedly complained that Northwest Side community groups were never informed about three public hearings held 10 years ago on the O’Hare overhaul proposal.

If only two public meetings are held now, “You’d have to hold them in the United Center” to fit all the people who will want to attend, Charlier said.

Every town east and west of O’Hare and every Chicago ward affected by the big switch in flight paths should host a meeting, Charlier said.

FAA officials revealed Tuesday the agency plans two public meetings sometime this summer, each from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on the jet noise and air-quality impacts of opening the new parallel runway out of the original order envisioned by the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.

The FAA decided that two 12-hour meetings would be more accessible to citizens than four evening-only ones, an FAA spokesman said.

One meeting will be east of O’Hare and another will be west of O’Hare, an FAA representative told the Technical Committee.

Those are the general areas most affected by the switch in O’Hare flight paths that began in 2013. The move has triggered skyrocketing jet noise complaints, peaking in the most recent city records in Chicago and Norridge to the east of O’Hare, and Bensenville and Wood Dale to the west.

The new runway will be the southernmost one at O’Hare, roughly running parallel to an area between Montrose and Berteau avenues in Chicago.

It is expected to open Oct. 15, the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Aaron Frame told the Technical Committee. Meanwhile, a diagonal runway will close first, on Aug. 20, but will not be torn up until spring 2016, Frame said.

The FAA drew heat from FAIR members and even some members of Congress after the Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that not one of the original legally required public meetings on the O’Hare air traffic shift was held in an area due to be hit with the worst jet noise.

At that time, back in 2005, two meetings were held in areas expecting less noise and one occurred in an area essentially unaffected by the flight path changes, the Sun-Times found. None was held in Chicago.

Even the FAA later called the turnout “very light,” but reported that public comment ran as much as 4-1 in favor of the runway overhaul, which brought more than 80 percent of all arrivals into O’Hare by flying over Chicago this past January. Previously, suburbs bore the brunt of arrivals.

The biggest gripe about the previous process was that there was not enough public participation, Art Woods, the Technical Committee’s Wood Dale representative, said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I don’t think [two public meetings about the new runway] will be effective to accomplish what we thought it would accomplish,’’ Woods said.

Although four meetings were mentioned in the scope of work for the re-evaluation of the impact of the latest runway, that number was only used to establish a budget for the work, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said after Tuesday’s meeting. Ultimately, two longer meetings were considered better than four shorter ones, he said.

The hearings are expected to feature an “open house” format in which information will be listed for citizen viewing on poster boards, with an expert available at each to answer questions, Molinaro said. In addition, visitors will be able to walk into a separate room and make comments to a court reporter or write them down privately, he said.

An “open house” allows more questions to be answered than a public hearing, where all in attendance are able to hear each citizen question and each expert answer, Molinaro said.

The FAA’s evaluation also will be posted online, where citizens will be able to make comments, Molinaro said.

FAIR’s Charlier called the “open house” format the equivalent of “talking into a black box.”

“That’s an attempt to say you held a meeting without any accountability for anything you [city and FAA experts] said,” Charlier said.

“That’s the kind of stuff they do in North Korea. It’s a fake meeting,” Charlier said.

Ald. John Arena, the commission’s 45th Ward representative, said he, too, favored more than two public hearings.

“We heard up to four meetings” so two meetings “is not what we expected,’’ Arena said after Tuesday’s meeting. “They need to be geographically spread out. More hearings is better, because it’s more opportunity for the community to hear the results of the study.”

Dunlap noted that many areas will want to host the meetings, including her 41st Ward, and only two locations will limit the number of hosts.

“I don’t think this will be well-received,’’ Dunlap said during the meeting.

The O’Hare Noise Commission’s new chair, Arlene Juracek, said if someone living west of O’Hare can’t make the west meeting, they can still travel to the meeting that will be east of O’Hare.

In addition, Juracek said during Tuesday’s meeting, the reception to the FAA’s plan may have been different if the agency had announced it would hold a morning and evening hearing on each of two days.

Juracek said her top concern was publicizing the meetings, but “if they can add a third or fourth meeting, that would be terrific.”

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