A meeting of Wheeling and Prospect Heights residents with the Chicago Executive Airport board Wednesday got noisy like the planes that fly over their homes every day.
About 30 community members attended the airport board's monthly meeting to express concerns about a recently proposed study to examine extending one of its runways 2,000 feet.
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Despite board Chairman Robert A. McKenzie's efforts to inform residents that nothing definitive has been decided, the meeting quickly turned raucous, prompting police officers to monitor the crowd.
Among the residents who spoke up was Allan Englehardt, a former chairman of the airport board who voiced economic concerns over potentially expanding a runway. But before he could rattle off facts and figures, his five-minute time limit to speak was over, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
"They want me to have one more minute," Englehardt said with encouragement from the crowd.
The uproar forced McKenzie and the board to break for five minutes before quietly resuming the public hearing with police officers standing by.
Wheeling resident Steve Neff, who lives just north of the airport, later described jet noise from the facility as a recurring problem.
"My decibel meter is clocking jets in as high as 85 (decibels)," he said. "From my understanding, that's not compatible with the use of the airport."
Neff also said there isn't a consistent mechanism the airport uses to determine how many jets are taking off and landing during nighttime hours, when people are more sensitive to the noise. McKenzie agreed.
Laurel Didier, a Wheeling resident who started an online petition and Facebook page to raise awareness about the board's runway study, was concerned not only with noise levels but also a perceived lack of transparency from the board.
"Right now no one really knows what the plan is or where you're going," Didier said. "We feel helpless to stop anything in the process. This could destroy our property values and safety."
Board members said the planned study will take at least 12 months to complete, and residents and municipal leaders will be kept informed on its progress and findings along the way.
"We're not hiding anything from anybody," airport board member Neal Katz said. "Be aware that we are here thinking of what you are saying, and that is totally honest with you. It's going to be a long time before we know what we can do."
Proponents say a 7,000-foot-long runway will let the airport accommodate large corporate planes they consider essential to the future of airports like Chicago Executive. Those planes need the longer runway to fly with full fuel tanks so they do not have to stop and refuel when they go as far as the Middle East or Japan, they say.
The ability of the airport to serve corporations is important in drawing companies to the region, they say. Fueling larger jets also would boost airport revenues -- and those of its owners, Wheeling and Prospect Heights -- which largely are derived from a 12.7 cent-per-gallon fuel tax, proponents say.