O’Hare noise complaints skyrocket since flight paths changed

SHARE O’Hare noise complaints skyrocket since flight paths changed

Monthly beefs about O’Hare International Airport jet noise have soared more than 1,200 percent since new O’Hare flight paths debuted last fall, although some suburban officials questioned if the numbers were even higher than those released Friday.

Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny told fellow members of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Friday that she had tried 20 times since Memorial Day to get through to the O’Hare noise hotline, but was unable to register a complaint.

Instead, she said, her calls — and any others from the suburbs — were automatically routed to Chicago’s 311 non-emergency number. There, Jezierny said, she got trapped in useless prompts for potholes and other problems, or was disconnected.

Representatives from Bensenville and Wood Dale also cited resident difficulties or confusion with the hotline, and Schiller Park Mayor Barbara J. Piltaver demanded to know why city aviation officials had done nothing since she beefed about the hotline in May.

“You need to do something and get a dedicated line. This is essential,” Piltaver told city officials Friday.

The hotline issue emerged after city aviation officials rolled out new numbers showing monthly complaints to it had soared between September, 2013 — the last full month before new flight paths debuted, and July — the most recent figures available.

During that time, complaints jumped from about 2,100 to nearly 28,000. Chicago Department of Aviation data noted that 41 percent of the July complaints came from nine addresses.

Chicago complaints alone totaled more than 12,200 in July, up from nearly 1,200 a month before the big flight path switch. That’s a more than 900 percent increase.

But given her own experience and other complaints, Jezierny said Friday’s numbers could well be incorrectly low. The hotline, she said, is “ineffective” and “not thorough.”

Monthly noise complaints have risen almost steadily since O’Hare switched last October from using criss-crossing runways to using parallel ones that send the vast majority of air traffic over areas directly east and west of the nation’s second-busiest airport.

Another literal fallout from the switch was cited Friday: Suburban committee members reported strange substances have been falling from the sky since the new flight paths debuted. Some called for tests of the mystery material.

Schiller Park’s Piltavar brought photos of yellowish-brown drippings that have appeared on residents’ cars — something she speculated might be from an aircraft bathroom. Harwood Heights representatives said citizens have complained of particulate “droppings” from the sky that sit like a film on cars, toys and plants.

“This is an environmental impact,’’ Harwood Heights’ Jezierny said. “This is unacceptable. People can’t live like this.’’

“Take some samples and find out what this stuff is,” said Des Plaines representative Mark Walsten, 6th Ward alderman there. “I’m not talking a million dollar study; I’m talking a couple hundred bucks to find out what this stuff is.”

The strange substances, as well as growing noise complaints, were just some of the reasons some suburban members gave Friday for urging that a “supplemental” environmental impact study be done of October runway changes, as well as additional runways planned through 2020.

However, the commission agreed instead to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to complete a narrower “re-evaluation” of its original environmental impact study by January, 2015. That evaluation will be used to determine if a larger “supplemental” study is warranted, FAA officials said.

A committee headed by Noise Commission chair Arlene Mulder originally had recommended a “re-evaluation” completion date of Sept. 5, 2015, which is about when the FAA said it planned to have it done. But Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn convinced the Commission to push up the deadline by arguing that the FAA had been talking about doing such a re-evaluation since 2011.

The FAA’s Barry Cooper told Commission members that the re-evaluation was “the homework that needs to be done” to evaluate whether a larger study is warranted. However, an FAA spokesman later conceded that no rule or statute required the FAA to do a “re-evaluation” before every “supplemental” environmental study but said that was the FAA’s “process the majority of the time” to ensure “due diligence” before it spends taxpayer money.

Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt urged skipping right to a larger “supplemental” environmental impact study, due to a host of changes since the original study was completed in 2005 — after 4 1/2 years of work.

The “re-evaluation,” Schmidt said, was a “smoke screen” and “delay tactic.” He noted that even three U.S. Congressmen have urged a more thorough study.

U.S. Reps Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky and Tammy Duckworth, all Illinois Democrats, wrote the FAA in June, calling for a new environmental impact study following exclusive Sun-Times reports that none of the FAA’s legally required public hearings on the

O’Hare overhaul were held in areas due for the worst jet noise, and that during the public hearing process, the FAA released incorrect and incomplete information about projected runway traffic.

Schmidt called the FAA’s Cooper an uninformed “mouthpiece” who, when pressed, couldn’t even tell the Noise Commission if a re-evaluation actually was required before every supplemental study.

“All we get from the FAA is talk, not action,” Schmidt said.

After Friday’s meeting, Schmidt also tore into the Executive Committee that Noise Commission Chairwoman Arlene Mulder heads. He called it a “Star Chamber” committee because its members and meetings are not listed on the Noise Commission website. Its decision to put the “re-evaluation” proposal on the agenda for a vote, but place his “supplemental” study proposal lower on the agenda as a mere topic of “discussion,” was an attempt to “undercut” his idea, Schmidt said.

“This is all parliamentary maneuvering,” Schmidt said.

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