Monday, June 02, 2014

Park Ridge Airport Commission asked to craft O’Hare ballot question

Four years after the city of Park Ridge asked voters to weigh in on O’Hare Airport, interest in a ballot question has resurfaced.

A referendum slated to appear on Chicago ballots this November has prompted Park Ridge’s O’Hare Airport Commission to consider an advisory question unique to Park Ridge’s interests. On May 27, the Park Ridge City Council asked the commission to develop a favored referendum question and present it during a June 23 Committee of the Whole meeting for consideration.

Aldermen did not reach a consensus on what, exactly, the referendum should ask, but suggestions shared by OAC Chairman Jim Argionis involved the establishment of an “oversight board” or “neighborhood-based plan” to “reduce and mitigate O’Hare noise and pollution.”

Two of the suggested questions ask if Congress should pass a law “to bring the FAA, the city of Chicago and community and suburban leaders to the table” to form such a board or neighborhood plan.

Chicago voters this Nov. 4 will see a referendum question that reads, “Should Congress a pass a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to revisit the criteria it uses to create the ‘noise contours’ that determine which residences near airports across the country are eligible for noise mitigation?”

Such noise mitigation involves residential soundproofing. Argionis suggested Park Ridge’s question should focus more on how noise and pollution are addressed by the FAA and airport.

“[Soundproofing] doesn’t really give any relief when you’re out in your backyard or you have your windows open,” Argionis told the City Council. “I think a lot of us see that as an imperfect solution, if it’s a solution at all. That’s why we crafted some questions that go beyond that and seek something along the lines of getting input from the affected community as to what goes on at O’Hare in terms of how the noise and or pollution is dealt with.”

Seventh Ward Ald. Marty Maloney and Mayor David Schmidt expressed reservations about the creation of an advisory board that would be involved in mitigation matters.

“My concern, as I read those questions, is should that referendum pass, Chicago, the FAA or whoever is it that responds is going to say, ‘We have a group like that. It’s the ONCC [O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission] and Park Ridge has representation,” Maloney said.

Argionis responded that the ONCC “doesn’t go far enough” and the O’Hare Airport Commission wants Park Ridge to have a say on how traffic patterns and noise are distributed around the airport.

Park Ridge is one of 36 communities and school districts that make up the ONCC’s membership. Mayor Schmidt has asked the group to back Park Ridge’s efforts to have environmental impacts from O’Hare expansion reexamined, but this has not occurred.

Fifth Ward Ald. Dan Knight suggested Park Ridge and other suburbs impacted by O’Hare coordinate to put a question on an election ballot that is the same for all communities. Schmidt said he would like the city’s question directed at asking Congress to “pass laws which are directed toward the goals we are looking for,” such as reducing nighttime flights over Park Ridge.

If the Park Ridge City Council wants an airport-related referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, approval would be required by Aug. 18.

In November 2010, the City Council placed a referendum asking if the city should fund up to $500,000 for noise abatement. The referendum was rejected by 57 percent of voters. At the time, members of the O’Hare Airport Commission expressed displeasure that the city had developed the referendum question without their input.

Park Ridge voters also answered advisory referendums related to O’Hare noise and traffic twice in 1996 — where they rejected O’Hare expansion — and once in 2001, where they asked the Illinois General Assembly to force Chicago and the major airlines to pay for sound insulation for all homes affected by noise.

All three questions, which were supported by the now defunct Suburban O’Hare Commission, also went before voters in several other suburbs as well.


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