Update Nov. 11: The original article stated Rep. Quigley’s office was unreachable for comment. After publication, Quigley’s office provided the following statement: “The Quiet Skies Caucus and request for additional noise monitors are just a couple of the many efforts I’ve undertaken on behalf of my constituents since O’Hare Airport was included in the Fifth District in January 2013. I have urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct new public hearings and issue a new environmental impact study (EIS) of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) in response to questions raised over the hearing process and noise levels that exceeded expectations. I have also called on the FAA to change the outdated noise metric that could allow more homeowners and businesses to qualify for soundproofing programs. In Congress, I introduced the Silent Skies Act to help combat aircraft noise on a national basis. I’ve taken all of these actions because I believe a robust O’Hare and a vibrant Fifth District need not be mutually exclusive, and I will continue to pursue every avenue that reduces noise without compromising safety.”
Airplane noise at O’Hare International Airport continues to be an issue for residents on the Northwest Side of Chicago and the adjacent suburbs that a politician risks becoming unelectable without campaigning on a platform that condemns it.
Unfortunately for the residents of the northwest suburb of Norridge, the issue may have stalled with some politicians before getting off the ground.
The tiny suburb, whose unofficial motto of “island in the city,” sits fewer than two miles east of O’Hare. In October 2013, The city of Chicago opened two new runways at O’Hare placing approach paths over Norridge. The runways now handle most of the airport’s wide-body jets, which are the noisiest aircrafts.
“They never had any town hall meetings in Norridge, Harwood Heights or anywhere near the affected area — that’s one of our main arguments with them,” said Norridge Village President James Chmura after a recent Village Board meeting. “It’s actually illegal.”
In the past year, candidates for local office, including Chmura who was elected last spring on a largely anti-airport noise platform, have been inundated with demands to somehow mitigate the noise.
On Nov. 4, voters in seven Chicagoland municipalities heavily supported ballot initiatives to restrict or control airport noise. In Norridge, citizens voted 90 percent in favor of an airport fly-quiet period. In Chicago, 78.4 percent supported the creation of airport noise contours to better control flight paths and subsequent jet noise.
Some residents suffering from airport noise even demand a total demolition and reversal of the decade-long airport expansion project.
Mike Quigley, the recently re-elected Democratic Congressional representative from Illinois’s fifth district, established the Quiet Skies Caucus with 11 other House Democrats facing difficult re-elections.
One of the caucus’ goals is to demand FAA public hearings before embarking on airport expansion, a main complaint of communities such as Norridge. However, congressional caucuses, not having the authority of a committee, have little regulatory power over executive agencies.
Another of the caucus’ goals is requiring the use of noise monitors near airports to measure rises in noise levels. This is the only recommendation that the City of Chicago has taken seriously in appeasing Norridge and its neighbors, with plans to erect one of eight new noise monitors within the village’s borders.
However, as one Norridge citizen expressed during the village board meeting’s open podium, “the noise monitors are just going to tell us that it’s gotten noisier.”
For Chmura and the rest of the Village of Norridge, every option is not off the table. Supporters are still hoping to have the airport introduce quiet hours at night, or have the FAA bankroll sound insulated windows for Norridge residents.
Chmura said the village has more leverage with federal and airline regulatory bodies than other legislative bodies because the moderately wealthy community connecting O’Hare with the rest of the city is forced to live with the reality of O’Hare airport noise every day.
Chicago agreeing to provide Norridge with a noise monitor is a sign that the village has won a small victory, and can possibly leverage more than those higher up the legislative ladder.
“Good things are happening,” Chmura said.