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Bumpy ride greets city’s O’Hare night noise-relief plan

O'Hare Airpot | File photo

Some suburbs worried about new O’Hare Airport night jet noise on Friday maimed — but didn’t kill — a city plan that attempts to offer relief to jet-ravaged Chicagoans and suburbs west of O’Hare.

A majority of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission approved a set of a voluntary “Fly Quiet” night flight proposals by a 32-to-11 margin but denied the Chicago Department of Aviation the super-majority of votes it had originally requested.

As a result, city aviation chief Ginger Evans said the city would work with Federal Aviation Administration officials on fine-tuning the current proposals and then return to the Noise Commission with more details, probably in May.

“This needs a little more discussion,’’ Evans said. “We need to continue to refine it.”

The city’s plan aims to provide some night relief to areas east and west of O’Hare, including several Chicago Northwest Side wards, that have been shouldering the brunt of O’Hare traffic since a dramatic October 2013 shift in flight paths.

Since the big switch, beefs about O’Hare jet noise have skyrocketed to record levels, with more than 73,000 Chicagoans and suburbanites registering complaints in January alone.

The city’s proposal would rotate night runways every week, create new night departure paths over some less populated areas, and pinpoint additional runways that could be used during the busier overnight hours of 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and from roughly 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. under the voluntary plan.

Leading the charge of suburbs that fired “no” votes into the proposals Friday was Noise Commission member Alan Kaminski, an Elmwood Park trustee. He said the plan would return flights over some suburbs that had finally started to feel promised relief under O’Hare’s $8.7 billion ongoing airfield overhaul.

“This shouldn’t be called `a Fly Quiet’ plan. This should be called a `spread the noise’ plan,’’ Kaminski said. “This represents a step backwards for communities that were expecting relief.”

Elmwood Park, southeast of O’Hare, has seen far fewer flights since O’Hare switched from using mostly diagonal runways to mostly east-west parallel ones, Kaminski said. And that’s exactly what his community was promised, he said.

However, two of five possible new night departure flight tracks would carry jets right over Elmwood Park, Kaminski said. And although one path tries to avoid populated areas by following the Des Plaines River, some Elmwood Park homes lie within 100 feet of that river, he said.

The city’s plan “represents a substantial change from what we were led to believe would be the final result” of the O’Hare overhaul, Kaminski said.

Also opposing new night departure paths and weekly night runway rotations were Franklin Park, Melrose Park, Northlake, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rosemont and Stone Park, as well as three suburban school districts.

Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, who was unanimously re-elected Noise Commission chair Friday, said the city originally thought a two-thirds supermajority-approval of new Fly Quiet plans would be a “nice idea” but there was no “formal requirement” for such a threshold.

The majority vote reached Friday still gives the city “permission to go forward” with plans to get fine-tuning from the FAA and then return to the ONCC with more details, Juracek said.

Friday’s vote reflects “a bit of parochialism” by suburbs worried about new night noise, Juracek said. However, she said, the Noise Commission represents 2.1 million residents and “We really need to think globally.”

Mayor Frank Soto of Bensenville, which along with Chicago would receive the bulk of the night noise relief under the city’s plan, urged the Chicago Department of Aviation to hold “special meetings” with those suburbs that voted “no” to more fully explain the city’s plans.

Representatives of the 36th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, and 45th wards in Chicago were among those who supported creating new night departure flight paths and rotating runways on a weekly basis.