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updated: 8/21/2014 1:22 PM

Suburbs putting new O'Hare noise on ballots

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  • Several towns near O'Hare International Airport have agreed to put advisory referendum questions on the Nov. 4 ballot.

       Several towns near O'Hare International Airport have agreed to put advisory referendum questions on the Nov. 4 ballot.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

As complaints about increased airplane noise from O'Hare International Airport grow louder, more towns are voicing their displeasure by putting advisory referendum questions on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Since the completion of a new runway in October, O'Hare air traffic has shifted to an east/west flow instead of in multiple directions.

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That has upset thousands of area residents unaccustomed to airplane noise and has persuaded at least a half-dozen towns to use the ballot box to make their unhappiness known to everyone from the Federal Aviation Administration to congressional leaders.

"We're not alone," Bensenville Village President Frank Soto said. "This is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed."

The Bensenville village board decided last week to put noise-related questions on the November ballot. Voters in Bloomingdale, Itasca, Wood Dale, Norridge and Park Ridge will see similar questions on their November ballots.

In Bloomingdale, for example, voters will be asked three questions:

• Should the Environmental Protection Agency or another federal agency enforce the regulations of the Noise Control Act of 1972?

• Should airlines be required to reduce airport noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a. m.?

• Should the O'Hare Noise Compatability Commission increase residential soundproofing in neighborhoods near the airport?

Even Chicago will ask voters if Congress should pass a law requiring the FAA to revisit the criteria it uses for noise contours that decide which homes are eligible for soundproofing.

None of the questions are binding, but officials hope they will at least make a point.

Noise complaints have prompted officials from several municipalities east of the airport -- including Norridge, Harwood Heights, Elmwood Park and Schiller Park -- to meet on a regular basis this year to talk about the problem, Norridge Executive Assistant Kathy Gaseor said.

"Our residents have been experiencing quite a bit of traffic since the October runway project was completed," Gaseor said, adding that she has personally been affected by planes flying over her house through the night.

Norridge has been passing out yard signs encouraging residents to report air noise complaints to the Chicago air noise complaint hotline. The signs read, "I can't hear you. Be heard."

Bensenville's Soto said one reason the noise issue is gaining traction is those towns east of the airport are starting to receive the same complaints as communities west of O'Hare.

"We see a greater number of people that are being impacted that hadn't been impacted before," he said.

"One way to demonstrate to the federal government how important of an issue this is through the masses," he said.

On Wednesday, neither the FAA nor Chicago Department of Aviation commented on the referendum questions. In the past, however, Chicago officials have said they will continue to work through the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission to resolve noise problems. The commission is a coalition of 30 municipalities sponsored by the city.

City officials said in May the department had made "substantial investments in sound insulating homes and schools around the airport. We will continue to work closely with the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission to address noise issues for the communities that surround O'Hare."

Meanwhile, the FAA stated in June that it participated in outreach sessions in 2013 to publicly discuss the airspace and flight configuration changes that would occur when the new runway became operational. It said the residents who attended those meetings had the chance to talk to experts about flight operations and airport noise.

Elk Grove Village officials, who have fought O'Hare expansion over the course of two decades, aren't seeking a ballot question to express their opposition to increased noise.

Instead, they're assembling a group of aviation and legal experts that Mayor Craig Johnson said will help make sure airlines and Chicago officials follow FAA rules agreed to during the airport's expansion.

Johnson said he would advocate for a mandatory "fly-quiet" program that could penalize airlines for increased noise during overnight hours.

As for the towns with referendum questions, municipal officials say they know the ballot questions are nonbinding.

Still, they hope to get the attention of FAA officials and members of Congress.

"It's reached such a level of impact in people's lives that it goes beyond just calling in to a hotline to complain," Bloomingdale Village President Franco Coladipietro said. "This is providing support for our congressmen and women to advocate the issue."

Gaseor said Norridge is advocating for solutions such as requiring airlines to upgrade from old, noisier engines to newer, quieter models and for more money to soundproof homes and businesses.

"We understand the airport isn't going anywhere," Gaseor said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Marni Pyke, Doug Graham and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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