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AReCO in the News

Source: Pioneer Press Newspapers

Date: January 20, 2005

Copyrightę 2005, Digital Chicago Inc.

By Patrick Corcoran, Staff Writer

FAA analysis: O'Hare growth and neighbors can co-exist

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O'Hare International Airport's proposed expansion would not affect the quality of life of thousands of homeowners and businesses near the airport, according to a new federal study.

 

But expansion opponents were lining up this week to rebut the Federal Aviation Administration's environmental impact study, which was released Jan. 13.

 

The FAA's new 5,000-page report on the $15 billion O'Hare Modernization Project says airport construction, increased flight volume and the airport's physical incursion into Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines and Bensenville will not lead to excessive noise and air pollution in those communities.

 

Roderick Drew, director of Public Affairs for the O'Hare Modernization Project, said Chicago officials see this report as one more step toward the FAA's final approval, which is expected by September.

 

"Thus far, we have not seen anything that leads us to believe the project will be of great impact on the region. Of course, it is a large airport, but we've looked for ways to mitigate the environmental impact and act as good neighbors," he said.

 

The study does not give a green light to the expansion proposal, said FAA Great Lakes Division spokesman Tony Molinaro.

 

"No decision whatsoever has been made (by the FAA) regarding the O'Hare Modernization Project. The report is a just an analysis of the city's proposal and other alternatives. It analyzes all the environmental data and other issues surrounding the project so the public can take a look," he said.

 

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson, an outspoken opponent of airport expansion, said the report downplays the impact on residents. In addition to losing 55 businesses in Elk Grove, the proposal cuts wide swaths through Bensenville and Des Plaines, he said. Johnson believes Chicago's announced plans represent a fraction of the actual number of properties needed to complete the airport's expansion.

 

The proposal also fails to address how airport planners intend to move two protected cemeteries that border the airport property. According to the report, St. Johannes Cemetery, which covers 5 acres, and the much smaller Rest Haven Cemetery, both located in Bensenville, are currently used by churches in Bensenville and Itasca.

 

Overall, Johnson says, the FAA's report does not help expansion proponents' cause.

 

"It will fall apart when they (Chicago officials) are forced to show that expansion will be worth the costs, which will finally be revealed by the (upcoming) cost/benefit analysis. They have also yet to explain how they will finance the project, which currently relies on the airlines, which have no money to spare," he said.

 

He said the Suburban O'Hare Commission, which consists primarily of Elk Grove Village and Bensenville, is prepared to file federal lawsuits against the city and FAA, as it has in the past, to block the project from going forward.

 

Points made

Highlights of the environmental impact study include:

The completed expansion will generate jet noise that would affect a total of 8,502 homes, or 2,000 more than currently affected. However, the report points out that since 1984, the number of homes affected by jet noise has dropped by 91 percent due to new jet engines and federal noise-reduction mandates.

  • If expanded, the airport would handle about 1.2 million flights by 2018 with average delays of only six minutes. In 2003, O'Hare handled 931,422 flights, and about 5 percent experienced delays of more than 15 minutes.

  • If O'Hare is expanded, the total number of passengers served would jump from 31.7 million in 2002 to 50.3 million in 2018.

  • Although expansion will create additional pollution, the finished project would not create enough toxins to violate federal clean air standards.

  • A total of 539 homes, 197 businesses, a historic farmstead, a school, three parks and the two cemeteries would be purchased and destroyed to make way for airport expansion.

  • Expansion resulting in the destruction of tax-revenue-generating homes and businesses would cause local taxing districts to lose $5.6 million in revenue annually.

     

    Jack Saporito, president of the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, and an Arlington Heights resident, said arguments purporting to show that airport expansion is safe do not take into account the health risks associated with additional flight traffic.

     

    "The ... plan offers no innovation and it is not sustainable environmentally, financially and also, in light of the future shortage of cheap oil. There are better plans out there but they do not put the money in the right people's pocket," Saporito wrote in an e-mailed statement.

     

    "The people -- residents, taxpayers, the traveling public -- need to be protected and this environmental procedure is part of the protection process," he wrote.

     

    Saporito, who is investigating possible connections between the airport and environmental illnesses and diseases, called upon local representatives to review the FAA's documents.

     

    Johnson said popular opinion will turn against the project when its costs are weighed against its benefits. He said Chicago's recent record of scandals involving contractors raises doubts about the city's ability to broker the expansion project.

     

    "They want to do the biggest public works project in the history of mankind and you see the kind of corruption going on in the city with these contracts. Can you even imagine the kind of stuff we're going to see happen at O'Hare if expansion truly does take place?" he said.

     

    Drew said the project contracts will be awarded in an open and transparent public process.

     

    "Bids, those who pick up bid packets, bidders and the responses to bids will all be available on-line," he said. "People will be able to see the bid requirements, who expresses interest and those persons' actual applications."

     

    Johnson also said he was astounded at the reduction of projected flights. In 2001 when the project was first laid out, officials had said expansion would allow for 700,000 additional flights per year. But the FAA's new estimates count additional flights at about 200,000 per year when the project is complete.

    Molinaro said the estimate represents a "reasonable" number of flights, not the maximum, that the airport could expect in 15 years.

     

    Johnson and Molinaro also said the FAA's report has no impact on the proposal for a south suburban airport at Peotone.

     

    Although Johnson sees Peotone as a viable option to O'Hare expansion, the report's authors don't see it the same way.

     

    The report says Peotone is still part of the equation, but that "the (FAA) concluded that each of these alternatives by themselves would not satisfy the purpose and need and therefore each was not feasible."

    Other options that were considered include the expansion of airports in Rockford, Gary and

    Milwaukee, but the report states that additional flights at these locales without O'Hare expansion is not enough to relieve air congestion in the region.

     

    Molinaro said the two projects are being analyzed, but that they are in different stages and on different tracks

     

    "We're working on (Peotone) with a separate team. We're still in need of more documentation on that project in regards to the environmental analysis," Molinaro said.

     

    Johnson insists that an FAA review of the Peotone project will turn expansion proponents against the O'Hare Modernization Project.

     

    "The Peotone project combined with all the issues that we have been hitting on for years will be the death knell for O'Hare expansion," he said.