I-Team Report: The Port of O'Hare

July 27, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Whether it's jet noise or runway expansion, for decades O'Hare airport has infuriated many nearby residents. The new hot button is flooding which last weekend made it look like "The Port of O'Hare". Flooded homeowners who live in the area are angry at Chicago aviation officials who say they're not to blame.

It was a mammoth rainfall at O'Hare - almost 7 inches in a few hours – that halted air operations, flooding airport grounds, stranding motorists on roads around O'Hare.

Despite the weather drama on video last Saturday, it is a couple of still photographs taken by a northwest suburban resident that have incensed some in Franklin Park.

"I didn't want to believe it, but I saw the pictures. You can see the trucks blowing the water right over into our creek," said Sandy Lofgren-Andrews, Franklin Park resident.

The trucks in the pictures are owned by the city and operated by O'Hare. They are the same trucks that the I-Team's news camera saw blowing water from inside the airport fence line toward O'Hare's four reservoirs built to collect storm water.

But the photos show flood water being blown from the airport side of Irving Park Road and over the road. On the other side of the road is a creek that was already topped off, according to residents. That creek winds its way through their neighborhoods.

"It pours into the house, into the garage, into any openings, everywhere...with all the remodeling over there [O'Hare] perhaps they aren't ready to uphold all the water they have right now and that's what they are doing," said Bart Zialinski, Franklin Park resident.

"I'm aware of the creek that you're talkin' about. No water was actually thrown in the creek the whole time," said Richard Edgeworth, Chicago Department of Aviation.

The chief safety and security officer for Chicago airports denies that O'Hare did anything to contribute to nearby flooded homes. He does say it was the very first time snow throwers were used in the summertime to move water.

"Our operations, people basically thought about the concept it could be used in this case," said Edgeworth.

Edgeworth tells the I-Team that the pictures show airport equipment helping surrounding suburbs by moving water from a flooded viaduct so that the road could be re-opened.

"We try to support them and we handle that for them because we have equipment that we can do," said Edgeworth.

"In the past 20 years this hasn't happened. Now all of a sudden, three years in a row we are getting flooded, why?" said Bruny Santiago, Franklin Park resident.

Some residents contend an expanding O'Hare has covered up land where rainwater could soak in, although the airport recently built a new, multi-billion dollar system to handle storm water.

But record rains and airport expansion aren't the only things to blame for flooding, according to Franklin Park's village engineer.

"Over the years we have added more impervious areas, more pavement, more roof...so the water runoff intensity is much higher than it used to be when this area was all farmland," said David Talbott, village engineer.

Talbott says that water damage has occurred in homes on designated flood plains, areas he says are expected to flood. For O'Hare area residents that explanation must sound similar to another one they have heard for years that says if you live around an airport you should expect jet noise.

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