in the News
Source: Pioneer Press Newspapers
By Patrick Corcoran
Date: February 3,
Copyright 2005 Pioneer Press Newspapers
O'Hare expansion, neighbors can co-exist
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
But expansion opponents were lining up to rebut the Federal
Aviation Administration's draft environmental impact study, which was released
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
Bensenville will not lead to excessive noise and air pollution in those
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
"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
"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
and other issues surrounding the project so the public can take a look,"
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
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 now 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
Highlights of the environmental impact
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
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
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 resulting in the destruction of
tax-revenue-generating homes and businesses would cause local taxing districts
to lose $5.6 million in revenue annually.
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
"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
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
Molinaro said the estimate represents a "reasonable"
number of flights, not the maximum, that the airport could expect in 15
Johnson and Molinaro also said the FAA's report
has no impact on the proposal for a south suburban airport at
Although Johnson sees Peotone as a viable option to O'Hare
expansion the report's authors don't see it the same way.
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
Molinaro said the two projects are being analyzed, but that
they are in different stages and on different tracks.
working on (Peotone) with a separate team. We're still in need of more
documentation on that project in regards to the environmental analysis,"
Johnson insists that an FAA review of the Peotone
project will turn expansion proponents against the O'Hare Modernization
"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