Representatives call for new hearings on O’hare project

U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (D-05), Tammy Duckworth (D-08) and Jan Schakowsky (D-09) have urged the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct new public hearings and issue a new environmental impact study of the O’Hare Modernization Program in response to increased noise pollution and questions raised about the process of holding hearings on the program.

In a letter to the FAA, the representatives wrote, "The FAA’s failure to focus on areas most impacted by the OMP in their public hearings and the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the information provided given the changes that have taken place since then is disappointing and calls into question the integrity of the environmental impact study process. As such, we write to request a full explanation of the FAA’s outreach to affected areas in advance of the OMP’s approval and strongly urge the FAA to undertake a new environmental impact study, accompanied by a new round of public hearings that will afford vigorous citizen input. Impacted citizens deserve a chance to participate and comment upon the changes that have so profoundly affected their lives."

Since flight paths changed in October, complaints about jet noise from O’Hare have risen dramatically. In the 10 years since the original impact study, significant changes to the implementation of the runway plan "underscore the necessity for a new assessment," according to the representatives.

Runways have opened out of sequence, new rules governing converging runways have pushed even more air traffic on the east-west configuration, and neighborhoods have been flooded with unexpected noise, the representatives said.

The representatives said that public hearings held in 2005 were held in areas largely unaffected by increased that residents were not informed how much more noise would occur when the changes took effect.

The representatives met earlier this year with FAA administrator Michael Huerta to ask that the agency reexamine the Day-Night Average Sound Level metric used to measure noise effects on individuals. Lowering the level would allow more residents to qualify for the O’Hare sound insulation program.

The representatives believe that the metric is outdated and that it does not accurately "reflect the true level of discomfort experienced by residents."

The representatives also encouraged the Chicago Department of Aviation to work with the FAA to complete a new impact study and to conduct new hearings.

A previous letter asks aviation department officials to consider expanding the "Fly Quiet" program, which encourages pilots and air traffic controllers to use designated nighttime preferential runways and flight tracks that direct aircraft over less populated areas, such as forest preserves, highways and commercial or industrial areas.