Leaders of an anti-jet noise group declared Wednesday that their long-awaited meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel was “a waste of our time” after the mayor would not commit to using his influence to save two diagonal O’Hare runways slated for demolition.
“We were told this is not going to happen,” Colleen Mulcrone, of the Fair Allocation In Runways coalition, said after emerging from an hourlong meeting that took 2 1/2 years to achieve — and which the group had requested 23 times.
“This really was a waste of our time,” Mulcrone said. “The unfortunate result of our meeting was more of the same and it was business as usual.”
She said Emanuel’s comments indicated “He does not care about us. . . . He has failed the people.”
FAIR advocates using diagonal runways at night and in off-peak hours to give communities some relief from being bombarded with jet noise from east-west parallel runways. As many as 63,000 Chicago area residents a month have complained about the barrage of noise since O’Hare changed its flight paths in October 2013.
Though FAIR won legislative approval to give the city the option of keeping the diagonals open, Aviation Commission Ginger Evans told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting that idea was “not feasible” because their use would create air-safety issues, interfere with roadway changes needed to create western access to O’Hare, and block the airport from adding gates.
Evans told FAIR leaders Wednesday that keeping the diagonals would require building a “$100 million tunnel” to allow western access and “that was a non-starter,” FAIR member Darrin Thomas said afterward. Evans indicated contracts had already been let and money had already been spent on an ongoing $8.7 billion O’Hare overhaul that included the demolition of the two runways, FAIR officials said.
“The message that sends is you are putting your money and your contracts before the quality of life and health of people who have to live with this plan,” Mulcrone said. She contended the decade-old O’Hare overhaul plan was built on assumptions that have yet to prove true and should be revisited.
Although the meeting was cordial, FAIR leaders said the mayor dashed any hope near the end of the discussion when Mulcrone asked if he would use his influence to try to save the diagonals. “Probably not,” Emanuel responded, according to FAIR members.
“The message is clear. The mayor does not care if he is not going to use his influence,” Mulcrone said.
But tens of thousands of newly affected residents do care deeply about the hundreds of daily flights over their homes; their tumbling property values; their inability to use their backyards; the disruption of their sleep; the health effects of jet exhaust “raining down” on their property; and the “sludge” they find layered in pools and puddles, Mulcrone said.
They’ve been hit with new jet noise ever since October 2013, when O’Hare switched from reliance on diagonal runways aimed mostly at suburbs north and south of O’Hare to heavy use of parallel runways aimed to the east and west of O’Hare. As a result, about 70 percent of all arrivals now fly over the city into O’Hare.
Mulcrone said FAIR would now put its energy behind a proposed ordinance by Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) that would clip Evans’ wings. It would require Evans to seek City Council approval of any O’Hare construction or runway changes.
So far, eight other aldermen have signed onto the idea; a ninth, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), offered verbal support Wednesday.
Napolitano also attended Wednesday’s meeting. He noted that the mayor did tell the group, “I feel your pain.”
Despite the mayor’s refusal to commit to using his influence on saving the diagonals, Napolitano said he did not think the mayor would “blow off” residents. “I truly believe we’re going to prevail,” he said.
Evans told reporters later that one of her top missions now is to advance her plan to alternate runways at night so communities would be affected by nighttime flights on a rotating basis. The concept must still be approved by a committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, the full Noise Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Told that FAIR contended the mayor’s position indicated he didn’t care about jet-weary citizens, Evans replied: “I understand why people believe that. . . . It’s up to me to prove we can make meaningful change.”