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Some Palos residents plane angry over Midway noise

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The rise in Midway Airport noise complaints, coming from as far away as Palos Hills and Palos Park, was among the issues discussed at last  Thursday's second-quarter meeting of the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission at The Mayfield banquet hall, 6072 S. Archer Ave., in Chicago.

Sarah Contreras, of aviation consultant Landram & Brown, reviewed the quarterly report showing that noise complaints lodged with the Chicago Department of Aviation from April to June, 2015 were more than twice the first-quarter numbers, up from 2,277 to 4,844. There were 135 total complainants, but she also said that 76 percent of the complaints came from just six addresses.

The 4,844 second-quarter complaints were scattered across 14 communities. Understandably,  almost 75 percent (3,048) came from 67 Chicago addresses. But they also included 31 from Palos Hills (four addresses) and 665 complaints from Palos Park came from a total of nine addresses. One Palos Park address accounted for 633. Many reports were complaining of noise at night, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Complaints, which are made through the city Aviation Department’s toll-free hotline (800-914-8537) or online at www.flychicago.com, rose significantly in the fourth quarter of 2014, when they amounted to 1,995. In most quarters since the Department of Aviation began tracking complaints in 2006, the number usually didn’t amount to more than 500.

Some of the increase has been attributed to a change in flight paths that the FAA instituted last year, resulting in more arriving flights coming in from the northeast over Chicago neighborhoods such as Bridgeport and McKinley Park, more than five miles from the airport, where residents weren’t used to be affected by aircraft noise. Departing flights also are heading southwest, causing unusually high noise and subsequent complaints in Burbank.

In order to gather conclusive data regarding increased noise in those areas, Chicago Deputy Commissioner of Aviation Aaron Frame said that a temporary noise monitoring device was deployed in May on the grounds of Reavis High School, at 6034 W. 77th St. in Burbank. He said that in June, that monitor registered an average of 55.2 decibel noise levels, below the 60 level required for schools to be soundproofed. Homes within the 65 DNL sound footprint are eligible for soundproofing.

Another permanent monitor is also being installed northeast of the airport, at 40th and Albany Avenue in the city, Frame said.

Commissioner Gail Conwell said in her report on the residential sound insulation program that 1,396 qualified dwellings (single-family homes and apartments and condos in buildings up to four units) had been inspected for illegal conversions, which are banned from the program. She said 151 units, in 69 buildings, were forwarded to the Chicago Department of Buildings for further review. It was then determined that 57 dwellings in 25 buildings included illegal conversions, and were removed from the list to be soundproofed. These included 12 in Archer Heights, seven in Clearing, four in Garfield Ridge, and one each in West Elsdon and West Lawn.

Frame said they had to eliminate entire buildings if there was one illegal conversion because of common walls and utilities shared between units.

“We have always been very strict about that,” said commission chairman Thomas S. Baliga. “We are not going to pay for new windows and doors on an illegally converted property.”

According to Conwell’s report, there are currently 2.142 dwelling units in various stages of the process of being soundproofed as part of what is called “Phase 15”—the largest package of homes ever soundproofed since the commission was formed 19 years ago.  They are divided into five bid packages, and are in various stages of completion. They are all due to be completed by spring of 2016.

Baliga and others on the commission were surprised to hear from city officials that residents of as many as 1,400 units in 900 buildings offered soundproofing have not responded to efforts by city officials to get in contact with them and start the process.

“There are just some people who don’t want to let people or anyone from the government into their house,” said Stan Lihosit, a commissioner from Archer Heights.

Baliga said he was “shocked” to hear that many people turned down the program. “Who wouldn’t want to get new windows and doors?,” he wondered. When he and other commissioners suggested there might be a language barrier, because many residents speak either Spanish or Polish as their first language. But Frame said the Department of Aviation took that possibility into consideration when the program began.

“We do have staff who speak Spanish and Polish,” he said. “They do make calls (in those languages), Frame said.

When the floor was opened for public comment, a lifelong Garfield Ridge resident who said she first heard about the 19-year-old commission that day questioned how she could live blocks from Midway and not qualify for soundproofing under the current FAA noise contour map. But Baliga said “the word is out there” about the program. Because so many people with broken English ask him about soundproofing, he said he is inclined to agree with Lihosit that the problem is a reluctance to allow government workers inside homes, for whatever reason, rather than a language barrier.