A freshman North Side Alderman who says his office has been inundated with complaints about jet noise around O’Hare Airport since he got elected has a plan to put the City Council in charge of approving all construction projects at the international airport, including those planned as part of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP).
Ald. Anthony Napolitano, whose 41st Ward includes O’Hare, introduced an ordinance in January that would prevent Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans from completing or starting any new construction projects at O’Hare until the City Council has a chance to look over and vote on the plans. Specifically, Commissioner Evans wouldn’t have the authority to “manage and control all matters and things pertaining to the construction, reconfiguration, decommissioning, and destruction of runways and taxiways,” without first obtaining approval from the City Council’s Aviation Committee through a public hearing on the matter.
For Ald. Napolitano, the ordinance is about transparency and giving residents an ability to object to any new projects that would lead to more jet noise in their neighborhoods.
“We need to have the ability to talk about what’s going on,” Ald. Napolitano told Aldertrack, giving the example of the 10-year-long rollout of the $1.3 billion O’Hare Modernization Program. “No one has talked about how it has impacted the quality of life with the plane volume.”
The city has a commission that handles issues of jet noise at O’Hare Airport. The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (ONCC) holds regular meetings and works with the city to address issues of jet noise, but they can only make recommendations.
Napolitano has publicly asked but been rebuffed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be named to the Commission to replace Catherine Dunlap, the 41st Ward’s ONCC Designee. She was appointed during former 41st Ward Ald. Mary O’Connor’s term in office.
It’s not Napolitano’s first perceived slight from the Mayor. Napolitano has accused the Emanuel of political retribution, saying the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals went against his wishes by approving a medical marijuana dispensary in his ward. Napolitano alluded to DNAInfo the Mayor was getting back at him for voting “no” on the 2016 budget.
Ald. Napolitano says that if Council approval is required for routine traffic signs, it should also be required for runways at O’Hare Airport. “I’m going to go to a [Council] committee to talk about a stop sign, but I can’t talk about a runway. That’s ludicrous.”
In a private briefing on the ordinance Wednesday with various members of the Aviation Committee, the Department of Aviation, and the Mayor’s Office, Ald. Napolitano was told to “make [the ordinance] go away,” he tells Aldertrack. “They said it’s in direct conflict of what they want to do.”
“This ordinance is a step in the wrong direction for the city of Chicago and the residents who live near O’Hare International Airport,” Commissioner Evans responded in a written statement to Aldertrack. “Specifically, the ordinance would result in severe economic implications for the city, stunt O’Hare’s growth as a world-class airport, and jeopardize the important progress the city is making in providing noise relief for residents.”
A halt of construction would mean an end to a big employment initiative from the Mayor. The Emanuel Administration has estimated over the next few years, the OMP “will create more than 5,000 construction and professional services jobs… and an opportunity to turn hundreds of entry-level jobs into opportunities for our underserved communities.”
Other caveats from CDA: it would jeopardize “hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding that the City has already received for O’Hare; violate state law and various intergovernmental agreements with surrounding suburbs; and mandate that CDA operate its airports contrary to FAA safety standards and regulations.
The morning before the briefing, Ald. Napolitano’s office sent out an email blast to constituents with the subject line: “O’Hare Noise – WE NEED YOUR HELP.”
In the email and to his roughly 3,900 Facebook followers, Ald. Napolitano encouraged residents to email all 18 members of the Council’s Aviation Committee and demand a hearing on the ordinance. A handful of ward offices we spoke to yesterday confirmed that they received a noticeable number of emails.
Asked if the campaign was an effort to force Aviation Committee Chair Mike Zalewski’shand, Ald. Napolitano said no. He wanted to show his colleagues how big of an issue this is in his neighborhood. “The thing is, that I have received hundreds of thousands of complaints, others don’t realize the flight volume and how bad it is.”
Ald. Napolitano says his ward office gets at least 69,000 complaints a month, and that it was one of the biggest issues in the 2015 aldermanic election. “I have people calling my office in frustration, kids aren’t sleeping, houses rattling, these are people that never had planes flying over their house [a few years ago].”
Following the briefing, Ald. Napolitano sent a follow up email to his colleagues on the Aviation Committee to clear up issues brought up, specifically as it relates to the new 9C/27C runway planned as part of the OMP. The opening of that runway, according to Commissioner Evans’ 2016 budget testimony last fall, will “mark the completion of all O’Hare modernization projects on the south airfield.”
But Ald. Napolitano’s ordinance puts a big dent in that plan. It calls for the immediate reopening of a diagonal runway the Department of Aviation closed last year to make way for the construction of that new runway.
“The Commissioner continues to state that the FAA will not allow 14L/32R [the diagonal runway] to reopen although it was open and being used just seven months ago,” Ald. Napolitano explained in an email sent to aldermen on the Aviation Committee yesterday. “If this Ordinance is passed, The Department of Aviation would be required to notify the FAA of their intent to open diagonal runway 14L/32R. The FAA has complete authority to reject this request if the runway poses any threat to the safety of airline passengers.”
That means if the ordinance passes, construction on the new 9C/27C runway would have to stop until Commissioner Evans briefs and receives approval from the Council’s Aviation Committee.