'Living in a war zone:' Residents, mayors blast O'Hare noise
If constant jet noise wasn't bad enough, airplanes dropping mysterious substances is now a concern, local leaders told Federal Aviation Administration and Chicago officials Friday.
New east/west flight patterns introduced after the commissioning of a runway at O'Hare International Airport in October 2013 have disturbed the peace of thousands across the city and suburbs.
The crowd, armed with protest signs, was so large it couldn't fit into the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission meeting room at DePaul University's O'Hare campus.
"Our lives changed at the flick of a switch last October," Wood Dale resident Barbara Hansen told ONCC members. "I went from a peaceful residential area to feeling like I'm living in a war zone. We can't allow ourselves to live like this any more."
Schiller Park officials said some residents had complained about a brownish-yellow substance spotting cars and kids' outdoor toys. And vibrations from planes were so bad, in one case, a senior citizen's window fell out of its casing, striking her head. "People can't live like this," Mayor Barbara Piltaver said.
FAA Regional Administrator Barry Cooper said the agency is re-evaluating a 2005 environmental impact study on O'Hare expansion. The EIS is essentially the playbook for the project, which creates a parallel runway system at O'Hare.
The agency has rejected requests to conduct a new or supplemental environmental impact study.
"There's not sufficient information to warrant a supplemental environmental study," Cooper said, adding the re-evaluation will tell if that next step is necessary.
Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt mocked the re-evaluation as a "tactic to mollify us" and pushed for the ONCC to vote for a supplemental EIS. At one point, he told Department of Aviation First Deputy Commissioner Michael Boland to "be quiet."
Several mayors and aldermen asked the government to work with the airport to provide an immediate reprieve.
"Residents are looking for some relief," Wood Dale Mayor Nuncia Pulize said. "I can't go to my residents and say, 'Hey, they're doing an environmental-impact statement ... keep quiet for the next few years.' It's not acceptable."
But other members of ONCC, a Chicago-sponsored coalition of municipalities that focuses on airport noise and soundproofing, said the FAA has to follow its own rules.
"It's not something that can be done quickly, unfortunately," ONCC Chairman and former Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said. "It's a very long process. O'Hare used to have no people around the airport."
"We're doing the best we can. Thousands of homes have been soundproofed," said Residential Sound Insulation Committee Chairman Frank Damato. "Every community complains they get more noise than the other."
The ONCC voted to request the FAA to speed up the re-evaluation and complete it by January 2015.
Some residents blamed the city and FAA for failing to inform them about the impact of the new runways and east-west flight patterns.
Norridge homeowner Randy Kopczyk said his community was kept in the dark. "Why couldn't we have meetings in our neighborhood? It's all about power and money," he added.
Meanwhile, Bensenville Trustee JoEllen Ridder said numerous residents complained they couldn't get through to the city's noise hotline. Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny said she waited until 11:30 p.m. once to talk to an operator.
The delays raised questions about whether noise complaint data is being underreported, she said.
Chicago Department of Aviation officials promised to look into the issue.