Suburban panel working with experts on O'Hare noise solutions

Elected officials from a number of Northwest suburban Cook County and northern DuPage County communities agree: they want to reduce noise from O'Hare International Airport.

But instead of immediately taking their complaints to Chicago and Federal Aviation Administration officials, they want to do their homework first.

Members of the Suburban O'Hare Commission, a panel that represents 11 governmental entities around the airport, presented their team of aviation experts to the public Wednesday night — two consulting firms who are tasked with gathering technical data and formulating recommendations on ways to reduce airport noise. Once the two firms are complete with their research, expected in the next six months, members of the commission plan to begin lobbying federal, state and Chicago officials.

“This is the first time I think we have assembled the right experts in the right position to gather information, go through it, and make incremental improvements that will benefit all of our communities,” said Bensenville Village President Frank Soto, vice chairman of the commission, during a meeting at Elk Grove Village's municipal complex. “There's no light switches you can turn on or off, but there's a lot of incremental options out there.”

The commission has hired Bethesda, Maryland-based JDA Aviation Technology Solutions to explore the impact of noise on houses, evaluate existing noise contours and identify possible airport operational changes. The panel has also hired Lockridge Grindal Nauen, a Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis law firm that will create an advocacy plan and identify possible changes to flight operations and noise exposure.

Joe Del Balzo, a one-time acting administrator and deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration who now runs JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, said his firm will present a technical case for adoption of a “more rigorous” noise metric that would give greater protection to communities near the airport. That could mean advocating for the FAA to change the decibel level that it considers noisy from 65 to 55. Currently, homes experiencing noise under 65 decibels aren't eligible for federally-funded soundproofing or other relief.

Del Balzo said it also may be possible for O'Hare to make an online flight tracking system publicly available that provides real-time noise data — a system that is in place at 20 other U.S. airports.

Del Balzo's group will also research the effectiveness of an existing voluntary fly-quiet program, and investigate whether incoming flights could approach at steeper angles.

Dennis McGrann, director of federal relations for Lockridge Grindal Nauen, said in the last month, he and Soto have already started talking with members of the Illinois Congressional delegation about airport noise, as well as other members of Congress who control the FAA's budget.

State Senator Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge asked the consultants to examine the environmental impact of the airport on communities.

Roselle Village President Gayle Smolinski said her town's noise impact has actually gone down since O'Hare adjusted which runways it uses, but she still supports the efforts of the commission since noise patterns “can change in a Chicago minute.”

The commission is using $190,000 left from a sound mitigation grant to pay for the consultants, and Elk Grove and Bensenville have each committed an additional $50,000.

Commission members are Elk Grove Village, Bensenville, Wood Dale, Itasca, Elmhurst, Addison, Roselle, Hanover Park, Schiller Park, DuPage County and Elk Grove Township.

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  Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson and Joe Del Balzo, an airport noise expert, discuss ways to mitigate noise from O'Hare International Airport, during a meeting Wednesday of the Suburban O'Hare Commission. Christopher Placek/
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