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'Rude' O'Hare awakening: Sleep-deprived residents unload on City Aviation commissioner

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans / Sun-Times

Citizens angry about new O’Hare Airport jet noise disrupting their sleep unloaded on the city’s aviation commissioner Friday for repeatedly leaving noise commission meetings early, before any public participation session.

The first outburst of clear irritation occurred in a foyer outside the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission meeting room, as Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans headed out the door.

“Once again, I had four hours of sleep!’’ Arlene Banas, of Chicago’s 41st Ward, angrily snapped at the fleeing commissioner.

Banas said committee meetings had devolved into a “dog and pony show” by Evans’ failure to stick around and listen to the public.

“Can’t you stay for community comments?” Jimmy Nuter, of Norridge, asked as Evans walked away.

Nuter said his Mayfair home sees as many as 600 to 700 O’Hare flights a day overhead, ruining his sleep. He called Evans “rude.”

Unlike her predecessor, Rosemarie Andolino, Evans has actually attended noise commission meetings since becoming city aviation commissioner last June and inheriting a wellspring of anger over a dramatic October 2013 shift in O’Hare flight paths.

However, Evans routinely leaves before the public comment section of each meeting.

Evans tries to attend “as many meetings as she can for as long as she can” but had some other meetings Friday morning, her spokesman, Owen Kilmer, told a reporter after Friday’s meeting.

Evans’ plan to spread out night jet noise more evenly and other O’Hare proposals prove she is “very sympathetic” to resident complaints, Kilmer said.

But several citizens Friday didn’t see it that way.

“We do not get respect from the commissioner. She’s left every meeting early,” Nuter told the noise commission during its public participation session.

“This is so indicative of how the citizens of Chicago have been treated,” Steve Brick, of Chicago, chimed in. “At every turn, we are ignored.”

Brick said Evans and the noise commission chair, Arlene Juracek, were literally turning their backs on residents. They and others sit with their backs to the audience, sometimes making it difficult for the public to hear what’s being said or know who is speaking, he said.

“We go to all these meetings and the citizens are sitting in the back, looking at your backs,” Brick said. “Up until now, we have been completely ignored. I for one am not going to stand for it.”

Brick said he might not be so angry if not for the fact that the last thing he heard at night – and the first thing that woke him at 3 a.m. – was an O’Hare jet.

“This is the hell we are living under,” Brick said. “The citizens of Chicago are fed up.”

Commission members Friday were given an update on how an ad hoc committee of their group was reviewing proposals to spread out night jet noise by rotating O’Hare runways used at night on a regular basis and using less populated flight corridors.

However, city consultants have made clear that the current number of flights from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. demand more runways than voluntary fly-quiet rules require. Therefore, they say, different fly-quiet rules should be established for those hours.

A key goal of the ongoing $8.7 billion conversion of the O’Hare airfield from mostly diagonal runways to mostly east-west parallel ones is to better accommodate more flights.

But the fallout has been that since October 2013, residents east and west of the airport have been bombarded with new jet noise.

Since the big switch, the growth in jet noise complaints, especially in Chicago, as been explosive and has won O’Hare the distinction of racking up the most jet noise beefs — by a landslide — among the nation’s 10 largest airports, a Chicago Sun-Times/Better Government Association investigation has shown.

Data released Friday indicated that from January through November of 2015, the city received a record 3.7 million O’Hare noise complaints — 170 times more than during all of 2012, which was the last full year before flight paths changed. However, November saw fewer complaints (351,873) and complainants (50,862) than October.

One citizen contended Friday that there are other ways to address jet traffic besides using more runways during shoulder hours than current fly-quiet rules require.

“There’s an alternative: restrict demand,” 41st Ward resident Frank Gagliardi told the commission. “There are other places that do this.”

Also Friday, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) told the commission that he wrote Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Dec. 21, saying he wanted to replace Emanuel-appointee Catherine Dunlap as the ward’s representative on the noise commission, but has yet to hear back.

Emanuel has the final say in naming or replacing commission members.

Napolitano said he’s attended every commission meeting since his April election, and has always been given a seat at the commission table and a name placard, along with Dunlap. But at his first appearance since asking to replace Dunlap — on Friday— suddenly he was denied a seat at the table, Napolitano said.

“As the elected official of the 41st Ward, I feel it is time for a change and I can best represent the ward in this fight on noise and pollution,” Napolitano said.