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City’s new O’Hare noise plan gets mixed reaction

Reaction was mixed Thursday to the Chicago Department of Aviation’s plan to close the diagonal runways noise-weary O’Hare neighbors have tried to save.

Instead, the Emanuel administration will seek a nighttime runway rotation that “is intended to spread out noise impacts and relieve concentrated noise occurrences in certain communities for nighttime hours,” it said in a news release.

Evans’ plan drew immediate heat from the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition, which has been lobbying to save two diagonal runways, aimed largely at the northern and southern suburbs, so they can be used to spread out air traffic more evenly. The organization represents more than two dozen community groups and suburbs impacted by an October 2013 dramatic shift in O’Hare flight paths.

Colleen Mulcrone, of FAIR, said that it was “unacceptable” that airport officials had ruled out the diagonal runways, which advocates say allows airplane noise to be more evenly distributed.

“Those are the runways that could spread the noise north, south east and west,” she said.

“People’s health and sleep are suffering now,” Mulcrone said. “We have to see a measurable improvement. We don’t think that could be achieved as fully as it could without the diagonal runways.”

But Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson was more pragmatic.

The proposed plan to rotate runways at night “will disperse traffic more evenly around the airport instead of concentrating it in one area,” he said. “Half a loaf is better than none.”

“The [O’Hare] expansion is here. It’s not going away. We lost that war,” Johnson said. “Now what we have to do is work with Chicago to minimize the impact of that expansion. The genie is out of the bottle we can’t put it back. We’ve got to be realistic.”

And Bensenville village President Frank Soto said he hoped the diagonal runways would have remained online until the expansion and construction of additional runways was complete.

“Only by building the final runway and extending the other parallel runway does the airport have the flexibility to provide the appropriate balance and eliminates some the impact on communities,” he said.

But the mayors praised the new Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans for her responsiveness to concerns.

As part of it’s newly released plan, Evans’ department also hopes to enhance communication with residents and add additional soundproofing to homes near the busy airport , it said in a news release.

“The solutions released today are the product of months of analysis, and collaboration with community groups and aviation experts,” Evans said in the release. “We know that airport noise is a challenge for many residents, but we are confident that we can move forward with concrete steps to ensure a higher quality of life for O’Hare’s neighbors, while maximizing the safety and efficiency of the world’s busiest airport. The city takes very seriously the impact of airport noise, but we are required to balance that with the impact on the thousands of people who rely upon O’Hare each day.”

The announcement from the city comes a day after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a measure that increased the number of runways allowed at the airport, which meant the two diagonal runways now slated for closure could possibly stay online.

That was heralded by community activists as a “huge win” for those seeking less aviation noise in their Northwest Side neighborhoods. Keeping open the diagonal runways, advocates say, allows airplane noise to be more evenly distributed.

In the press release, Chicago officials said the diagonal runways will be decommissioned next month as planned “due to significant safety issues with an antiquated, intersecting airfield configuration, a lack of operational efficiency, and increased costs associated with keeping the runways open.”

The department also said those runways are not often used and “can only provide negligible noise benefit to the surrounding communities.”

They also prevent needed development at the airport, they said.

As a result of legislative action, FAIR is having its third and final meeting on the jet noise issue with the Chicago Department of Aviation Friday night. Lawmakers forged an agreement to hold the meetings after Mayor Rahm Emanuel rebuffed more than a dozen FAIR requests for a meeting.

“FAIR’s position is that we are glad to see movement on improvements to Fly Quiet — they clearly gave it thought, but without the diagonals it is insufficient,” Mulcrone said. “We don’t accept the decision to proceed with eliminating the diagonals — now or in 2019 — and we want the FAA to weigh in directly on FAiR’s proposals.”

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi

CDA Noise Recommendations

CDA Response to Community Comments

CDA Supplemental Information