Council rejects noise ordinance
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that the city is "turning its back on Northwest Side residents" on the issue of jet noise after aldermen rejected an ordinance designed to save two diagonal runways at O’Hare International Airport that are targeted for demolition.
Northwest Side residents have complained of a dramatic increase in jet noise as operations at O’Hare have switched from diagonal runways to east-west runways as part of an airport modernization project.
The ordinance, which also would have limited the authority of the city aviation commissioner, was rejected by the City Council Committee on Aviation on March 10 by 10-1 vote and by the full council on March 16 by a 48-0 vote.
Napolitano sponsored the ordinance, which would have limited the power of city Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans and required any decisions regarding "construction, reconfiguration, decommissioning and destruction of runways and taxiways" to be approved by the City Council.
The ordinance also would have halted demolition of the diagonal runways and taxiways until the approval was obtained from the city. Runways 14 Left/32 Left, 27 Center/9 Center and 9 Right/27 Left would be affected.
The ordinance also would have required the reopening Runway 14 Left/32 Right and return it into operation immediately. One runway closed last year and is scheduled for demolition this year, and another one will close in 2019. The two remaining diagonal runways would be used based on weather patterns.
Aviation committee members who voted against the ordinance are Aldermen John Arena (45th), Patrick Dowell (3rd), Raymond Lopez (15th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Daniel Solis (25th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Emma Mitts (37th), Patrick O’Connor (40th) and Michael Zalewski (23rd).
"I don’t think it’s over yet, but I just wanted to have a conversation and to make sure that were are not closing the door and running out of options," Napolitano said. "Every project in this city, whether it’s a stop sign or vacating an alley, goes up before a committee, but an issue as big as the closing of runways at the airport doesn’t deserve a hearing?"
Napolitano said that at a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Fair Allocation In Runways Coalition in January, Evans said that keeping the diagonal runways would require a tunnel to allow western access and that that was not possible. The coalition has been working to reduce jet noise.
"This ordinance was not designed to shut down the airport or get rid of union jobs," Napolitano said. "I’m a union guy and I’m still paying union dues, so why would I want to do that?
"I think we just need to be fair about this to the residents of the Northwest Side. The city can’t just say we have the money to build it so let’s just build it."
"I knew going in where it was going to go," Napolitano said of the ordinance. "It was the same as that meeting between FAIR and the mayor. It’s like they were just going through the motions."
The coalition wants to save two diagonal runways set for demolition and to use them at night and during off-peak hours to alleviate jet noise from flight path changes at O’Hare that occurred in 2013.
Napolitano said that he fears that if the runways are demolished and rotating the use of the runways fails to address noise significantly, the residents will have no more options. He said that noise complaints have increased from 29,493 in 2013 to more than 4 million last year.
The Department of Aviation has been planning to rotate the use of runways late at night for departures and arrivals as part of a series of steps to address airplane jet noise, but it still plans to decommission two diagonal runways despite calls from community groups and legislators to keep them open as options to spread out air traffic.
The department plans to balance the use of O’Hare’s runways at night as part of the "Fly Quiet Program," prioritize the building of additional runways to reduce noise in certain neighborhoods and explore providing sound insulation to homes. The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission would have to approve the plan.
"I’ll give everything an opportunity to work, but if you dig up those runways and the rotation does not work, what do you have left?" Napolitano said.
Napolitano said that noise complaints have skyrocketed on the Northwest Side and people are visibly upset.
However, Zalewski, who is the chairman of the committee, said that the ordinance was "unprecedented."
"It would take a lot of the authority over the airport and give it to the council," Zalewski said. "Hiring a new aviation commissioner and then taking away her authority seem counterproductive."
"I thought that it was fair to give Napolitano a hearing, but I told him that it didn’t have a chance of passing and that the mayor’s people would likely fight this," Zalewski said. "Basically a lot of the stakeholders at the airport voiced their concerns about how this would affect the modernization program."
Zalewski said that the ordinance would violate Federal Aviation Administration’s funding agreement and risk a federal lawsuit that could seek repayment of the money that has already been spent on the modernization program.
Zalewski said that in cases where an immediate decision was needed from the commissioner, the ordinance would slow the process because any decision would have to be approved by the committee and the City Council.
"I just wanted to have a conversation and I think I made my point about what my constituents think," Napolitano said. "I thought if we can address this at the council level, then maybe we wouldn’t be shutting down any options but working on solutions."