Correction: In this story we inadvertently ascribed comments made by Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino to Erin O’Donnell, the managing deputy commissioner for the department. The error has been corrected in this version.
The city’s Committee on Aviation Wednesday approved a new lease agreement with airlines operating out of Chicago Midway International Airport, but aldermen and at least one resident questioned how privatization would factor into the agreement and if the airport would remain committed to noise reduction plans.
The 15-year agreement, which still needs approval from the City Council, requires airlines to spend $1.1 billion on airport improvements. In turn, Midway would share up to $1.5 million in revenue a year with airlines for the length of the contract.
But Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), the aviation committee chairman, questioned the agreement’s impact on Midway neighborhoods, many which are located in his ward.
Erin O’Donnell, managing deputy commissioner for Chicago Department of Aviation, said the department will install devices to monitor noise in area homes as part of its noise reduction program.
“Midway is located in a densely populated community,” O’Donnell said in response to Zalewski. “We have sound-insulated 8,200 homes so far.”
O’Donnell said 11,000 homes are affected by Midway Airport noise.
But city officials may have overlooked parts of Brighton Park, said Lisa Villanueva, who lives in the neighborhood, in an interview.
“The airport is very noisy,” she said. “It sounds like the airplanes are coming on top of your house.”
Villanueva, a housing case manager for Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said many people from her community complain about the noise. She added that no homes in her subdivision have been soundproofed.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said in the meeting that some residents in his Southwest Side ward still complain about the sound, but some soundproofing has been done there, said Rosemarie Andolino, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Noise reduction and other Midway improvement plans might get threatened if the airport is leased to a private owner, Burke said in an interview after the committee meeting. The city must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration by Dec. 31 for eligibility to privatize Midway.
A private owner may not recognize current plans to limit airport noise or make other improvements, since privatization is not included in the new airline lease agreement, Burke said after the meeting. Other improvements include the renovation of a runway, consolidation of rental car services and addition of a pedestrian bridge on Cicero Avenue, right outside of the airport.
Burke repeatedly asked Andolino during the meeting if the department of aviation had worked on the privatization application—in case the city decides to pursue leasing Midway—and later said he was “not satisfied” with her responses.
“Did she give me any answers?” Burke said, when later asked how he felt about Andolino’s response.
Andolino said her department is analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of privatizing Midway before moving forward.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley had almost privatized the airport in 2009, but the deal collapsed due to “financial turmoil,” according to a Chicago Tribune article.
“We went to the church steps with a suitor, but the proposed leasee decided to leave the bride at the altar,” Burke said during the meeting, in reference to Daley’s attempt to privatize the airport.
Burke abstained from voting for the new use agreement because his law firm represents some Midway airlines.
Southwest Airlines representative Dave Aschenbach, who attended the committee meeting, said he had no opinion about privatization but said the airline is ready to fund the noise reduction program.