City Council grounds O'Hare runway proposal

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Over the objections of angry residents a controversial plan to save two diagonal runways targeted for demolition at O'Hare airport was grounded by a city council committee today. Experts say they have a fatal design flaw and the city says using them to distribute the burden of jet noise wouldn't work.

Quality of life on the northwest side has been severely hampered, according to Alex Rockomanovic, since 2013 when new runways opened as part of the O'Hare expansion project.

"Imagine an airplane flying over your head every 35 seconds day and night," Rockomaovic says. "It has been incessant, day and night. I live between two flight paths."

On Thursday Rockomanovic, neighbors, community groups and those favoring O'Hare expansion, including labor, watched the Aviation Committee strike down a proposal from 41st Ward Alderman Anthony Napolitano that would halt expansion.

"As you see in today's hearing everything is special interests, nobody cares about the citizens and the homeowners living up there, the pollution, children not being able to sleep, it is absolutely deplorable," says Don Walsh of Fair Allocations for Runways.

The city has received over 4 million jet noise complaints about jet noise over the last two years from an area that objected little about it before. Everyone but Napolitano voted against his motion, including aldermen of wards that have also lodged many complaints according to city data. City lawyers said Chicago would be sued and passenger safety would be compromised if the Council passed the motion.

"It is a recognized process. It does take into account all the voices of all the affected communities as it must, and as it should," says Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans.

For now, opponents plan to keep fighting, perhaps through the courts. For Napolitano, a firefighter who was elected on promises to do something about airplane noise, it's a lesson, he says, on how things work

"The ward itself is getting ready to put together a class action lawsuit and what hurts me the most is that I have to go home to my kids and say, hey, that's the Chicago way," he says.

The city says it can spread the noise burden by building another east-west runway, and that's scheduled for 2020. In the meantime the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission is expected Friday to approve rotating the runways used at night on a weekly basis to diffuse noise.
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