For Once, Some Good News On O’Hare


Anyone who has been reading this blog or otherwise paying attention for the past few years knows what a Sisyphean task it has been getting any meaningful noise relief from O’Hare International Airport, especially since the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”) was adopted.

The airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and congressmen and senators from around the nation were looking to reduce the air traffic bottleneck that O’Hare had become. Meanwhile, a virtually bankrupt City of Chicago became hell bent on building more runways and running as many flights in and out of O’Hare as possible, if only for the taxes and fees they could generate.

Lo and behold, last week we heard that O’Hare had wrestled the title of the country’s busiest airport away from its old nemesis, Atlanta’s Hartsfield.

Add to that the seeming sabotage of Park Ridge’s efforts to alleviate the overhead traffic and noise by neighboring O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (“ONCC”) member communities like Arlington Heights – who feared that any gain in Park Ridge’s noise reduction efforts would result in increased noise for them – and the task of merely gaining approval of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”) looked increasingly bleak.

So last week was quite a welcome development for Park Ridgians.

On Thursday, October 2, Illinois congressman Mike Quigley announced the formation of a “Quiet Skies Caucus” comprised of himself, fellow Illinois representative Tammy Duckworth, and 11 other U.S. House members from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York.

Then on Friday, October 3, the ONCC voted to support Park Ridge’s request for the SEIS, with only three “no” votes: from Elmwood Park, Melrose Park and the City of Chicago.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

While the vote in support of the SEIS is an important step, the FAA is not bound to honor that vote. And even if it does, it could be years before any meaningful relief is provided – and that will most likely be in the form of a new noise contour map that would increase the number of homes and buildings entitled to soundproofing. And, if we’re lucky, it might also promote an increased implementation of the “Fly Quiet” program.

And you can bet Chicago will fight tooth and nail to keep O’Hare cranking at full capacity.  Because of the mess he inherited from Daley, Rahm needs every penny he can squeeze out of anything that moves…or sits still for too long.

Nevertheless, Mayor Dave Schmidt’s jaw-boning of the ONCC to vote in support of the SEIS is something. And it validates the decision of the City Council to look for political solutions to what is a political problem, rather than spend tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation with little-to-no chancce of gaining any better result.

Meanwhile, the best chance we have for noise relief continues to be the airlines’ modernization of their fleets by replacing the noisiest jets – currently the MD80s – with newer, quieter jets. Expediting those upgrades is where a caucus like the one Congressman Quigley helped form might be able to exert some influence that’s not in Park Ridge’s or any other community’s tool box.  But, once again, don’t expect that to happen overnight – if at all – because Chicago is too big to fail.  And so are the airlines, at least to those elected officials who count on them for campaign contributions and jobs in their districts.

We’ve still got a long way to go. But last week was easily the best one Park Ridge has had in years when it comes to dealing with O’Hare noise.

And it cost Park Ridge taxpayers next to nothing.

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