(Chicago) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday evening announced that the federal government will rush a new study on O’Hare jet noise.
Emanuel announced last night that the Federal Aviation Administration will expedite a “key” study to review the existing national metric for measuring noise near airports.
The mayor says that the rushed national study will benefit residents, as the findings could result in more people qualifying for the O’Hare Residential Sound Insulation Program.
“This is a major step forward that can benefit thousands of residents struggling with jet noise, while also maintaining a driver of Chicago’s economy,” said Emanuel. “While we have made important investments in soundproofing homes near O’Hare over the past four years, this study has the potential to expand that opportunity to more homeowners in more Chicago neighborhoods.”
Noise complaints have soared since new runways were installed and flight paths activated at the airport in 2013.
With both the recent electoral scare faced by 39th Ward Alderman Marge Laurino, the loss of 41st Ward Alderman Mary O’Connor and state lawmakers attacking the noise problem with legislation in Springfield, Emanuel is finally trying to get ahead of a problem that he had previously ignored.
The study will review the national Day-Night Average Sound Level 65 decibel metric to measure the extent and magnitude of the problem facing residents who live near O’Hare.
The Mayor says that he wrote FAA Administrator Michael Huerta a letter asking for the study to be expedited last July and met face-to-face with Huerta to discuss the study as recently as two weeks ago.
Emanuel’s announcement on the fast-track study comes on the heals of a press conference on Monday by State Senator John Mulroe (D-Chicago) where he pushed for more aggressive action on the O’Hare jet noise problem than a “study.” Mulroe wants to reconfigure O’Hare runway usage.
“The noise levels are unbearable for people and we are working hard to address those concerns,” Mulroe said. “This legislation was drafted with the intention of seeking a compromise with the airport and the residents in communities bordering the airport.”
And what has been interpreted by some as a veiled shot at City Hall, Mulroe said, “I want there to be a little less talk and a little more action.”
Mulroe’s legislation, SB636, would raise the number of active runways O’Hare could have from eight to 10, while SB637 stipulates that the existing runways must all remain active and at full capacity.
Prior to 2013, reliance on the existing runways diverted air traffic not only east-west but also on a diagonal pattern northeast-northwest. Since that time, the parallel east-west runways have moved to 97 percent capacity, while the diagonal runway’s traffic has dwindled to 3 percent.
Suburban State Senator Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) followed a more diplomatic line than his senate colleague.
“While I agree that a state-of-the-art and efficient O’Hare Airport is a key component to our area’s economy and transportation system,” Kotowski said, “I firmly support expansion of noise and air pollution monitoring and greater public involvement in decision-making.”
But Mulroe’s legislation got a firm boost from U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago).
“We need a fairer distribution of arrivals and departures among O’Hare runways to ease the flood of aircraft noise inundating our neighborhoods,” Quigley said. “I appreciate Senator Mulroe’s leadership and partnership as we continue to pursue every avenue that reduces noise without compromising safety.”
In May of 2014 leaders of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition sought the ouster of the Mayor’s Aviation commissioner, Rosemarie Andolino because of “mounting frustration over the lack of response from Mayor Emanuel” to meet the group and discuss the O’Hare noise problem.
“The response from the Chicago Department of Aviation has been worse than silence,” Jac Charlier, Fair co-founder, said in a statement last year. “Commissioner Andolino has already made up her mind that there will be no change at O’Hare no matter how many citizens demand change, no matter what solutions are proposed and no matter how devastating the impact of her decisions on families, children and seniors, and even entire neighborhoods.”
City Council hearings on the jet noise sought in January 2014 by Laurino and O’Connor, but opposed by Emanuel, went unscheduled, drawing further fire from critics and undermining Laurino politically and in O’Connor’s case, fatally.
Now Emanuel is seeking to rewrite his record on jet noise and using the promises of a federal study and potentially more homeowner sound insulation to pacify homeowners and anti-noise activists.
Whether they buy Emanuel’s new commitment, that remains to be seen.
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