Suburbs May File Suit over O'Hare Airport Expansion Plan

DECEMBER 6, 2001

Officials of three suburban communities opposed to expansion at O'Hare International Airport plan to meet next week to discuss whether to file a lawsuit to block the project.

With Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan apparently closing in on a deal that would add two runways to the airport, expansion opponents say they may go to court to try to protect their residents from increased noise and the relocation of homes and businesses.

Under state law the city cannot alter the design of the airport without obtaining a permit from the state Department of Transportation, Joseph Karaganis, attorney for the Suburban O'Hare Commission, said Wednesday.

It's not enough for Congress to write the airport deal into a federal defense appropriations bill, as Daley has contemplated, Karaganis said. The permit process would require the city and state to make public details about the plan and have public hearings, Karaganis said.

Expansion opponents want specifics on where the runways and access roads would be built, how many houses and businesses would be displaced, the cost of the project and the sources of funding, Karaganis said. They also want information on how the expansion will affect noise, air pollution, safety and air fares. "They're trying to ram it through without a full, thorough public debate," Karaganis said. "It is a fiasco."

Officials from Elk Grove Village, Bensenville, and Park Ridge will meet Wednesday in Elk Grove Village to consider the possibility of a lawsuit. Other members of the commission also will be invited, said Ron Wietecha, mayor of Park Ridge. Wietecha said Wednesday he couldn't predict whether the municipalities would sue. But he said he thought they "would be amenable to do whatever it takes to protect our rights."

Spokesmen for Ryan and Daley had no comment Wednesday on the prospect of a suit.

In 1995 three members of the commission -- Bensenville, Elmhurst, and Wood Dale -- sued in DuPage County Circuit Court alleging the city had made millions of dollars in alterations at the airport without a permit, in violation of state law. But last year DuPage Circuit Judge Bonnie Wheaton dismissed the suit, forcing the commission to appeal to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Elgin. The case is pending.

Karaganis and Wietecha said they were confident Wheaton's ruling had been incorrect and they didn't fear bringing another suit based on the same legal theory.

The 1995 suit did force Chicago officials to release documents related to airport expansion plans. In 1998 the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the city to turn over the documents. Getting more information is a key goal, Wietecha said. "What's [an added north runway] going to do to Park Ridge?" Wietecha said. "I can't find out. No one will tell me.... This plan cannot succeed if it's shown the light of day."

Source: Chicago Tribune