Friday, June 07, 2013

The saying goes, “You can’t fight city hall” — but does the same hold true when it comes to the FAA? Law firm pitches more O’Hare litigation to Park Ridge City Council

June 7, 2013 7:18PM


Park Ridge

Voters and elected officials have said “no” in recent years to the city of Park Ridge using tax dollars to fight noise and pollution from O’Hare Airport. But the City Council has again heard from a law firm proposing litigation options for the city to pursue against the Federal Aviation Administration.

An hour-long presentation from attorney Richard Porter of the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson took place during the June 3 City Council meeting. Porter was invited by Jim Argionis, chairman of the city’s O’Hare Airport Commission.

The City Council’s is expected to continue discussion of Porter’s presentation during a future Committee of the Whole meeting.

Porter presented recommendations to the city involving so-far-unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Federal Aviation Administration to do a new study looking at how expansion at O’Hare Airport has affected surrounding communities. Among the areas the city wants explored in the supplemental environmental impact study are levels of noise and air pollution.

Porter said the city’s first step should be to authorize his law firm to draft a comment on the FAA’s planned “re-evaluation” of its 2005 environmental impact statement. After that, the city should hire a professional engineer and also an air consultant to conduct studies that will reinforce the city’s stance that environmental situations have changed since the FAA’s environmental impact study was completed eight years ago, Porter said.

“We are willing and able to draft the public comment for you, but we believe you should hire additional experts,” he told the council.

Once the studies are completed, Porter suggested filing an injunction or other legal action against the FAA.

The cost of filing a “public comment” could cost the city between $15,000 and $30,000. Taking the matter to court could require the city to spend roughly $150,000, Porter said.

Members of the city’s O’Hare Airport Commission are hopeful that a new environmental impact study could lead to less noise, air traffic and pollution.

But 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis suggested the council “keep lessons of the past in mind” when considering whether to spend any more large sums of money on airport-related litigation.

“Every time I bring up anything involving O’Hare, the response I get (from citizens) is, ‘Don’t spend any more money on that,’” Milissis said. “We’re still fighting against odds that are stacked against us.”

In years past, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting O’Hare expansion and supporting plans for a third major regional airport in Peotone. That spending came to an end around 2003 when the city’s leadership changed.

In 2010, 57 percent of voters said “no” to a referendum asking if the city should spend as much as $500,000 on noise-abatement measures to address the impacts of O’Hare International Airport expansion. That same year, the city heard from an attorney interested in representing Park Ridge in future litigation against the FAA. However, he later learned he would be unable to take the case due to his prior employment as an FAA attorney.

Since 2011 the city has spent $2,500 for the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson to draft two letters to the FAA seeking supplemental environmental impact studies. Both requests were rejected by the FAA.

Last year an online survey developed by the city’s O’Hare Airport Commission found that 92 percent of the 268 respondents said they would like to see another environmental impact study conducted prior to 2020, when the airport expansion is expected to be complete. Ninety-six percent said they felt Park Ridge’s elected officials should be monitoring O’Hare expansion and another 96 percent said they were in favor of requests to the FAA to “implement mitigation measures to reduce the noise and other environmental impacts” related to new runways.

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