by News Wire

THE GATE Newspaper

February 17, 2014

Chicago Helicopter Express has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America for proposing a $12.5 million helipad, to be located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago’s Near South Side. The facility would include “helicopter landing and departure pads, a water taxi dock, and observation deck. The company’s helicopters would fly at 1,300 feet and mostly follow flight paths toward Lake Michigan along the nearby expressways.” The facility would serve as a launching pad for chartered flights and aerial tours.

In reality, the proposed heliport would be a sonic assault on the Pilsen neighborhood–which already experiences excessive noise. The Chicago city council recently approved a “vertiport” helicopter facility on a vacant 10-acre lot near Wood Street and 15th Street, close to Stroger Hospital. If the new heliport is approved, the Pilsen neighborhood would be surrounded by helicopter noise.

A landowner in the Pilsen community expressed his concerns to Chicagoist Daily: “With 30-minute tours, there could be 20+ take-offs and landings an hour. The flight approaches are from the north over Pilsen. It does not make sense for Pilsen to be bookended with two heliports. There are many studies that show that helicopter noise is harmful. They are trying to permit for flight operations until midnight. The hard workers of Pilsen that have to get up very early will not be able to get a full night of sleep.”

Jerry Mead-Lucero, organizer for the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization(PERRO), is concerned that the proposed heliport will add yet another source of noise and air pollution in the neighborhood: “Both helipad projects need to be halted until the community can review them and determine their effect on our quality of life. Members of PERRO are very worried that dozens of helicopters flying in and out of the area every day will create constant noise–which causes sleep deprivation, hearing loss, headaches, and heart problems. Excessive noise also damages a community’s quality of life and property values.”

Another concern about the proposed project: public safety. Mead-Lucero noted that “the heliport will be in a small, congested area near public transportation, pedestrians, and businesses. The fuel that is used on helicopters is highly flammable–leaving little room for error or accidents.”

Mead-Lucero is also frustrated that the community was not properly informed or consulted about the development of either heliport: “When was the community meeting? How will community residents be able to voice their concerns?”

Miguel del Toral, Jr., a member of PERRO, is very upset about the increased noise pollution in his community: “If you have ever heard one of these helicopters fly over the neighborhood, you know how much noise they create. With dozens of helicopters taking off every day, all day from two heliports, the noise would be unbearable.” Miguel is also angry that the helicopters will largely be used by corporate executives and wealthy tourists, but not area residents: “Once again, rich people are benefiting at the expense of working-class people in Pilsen. We have to fight for the greater good of our community. It’s a matter of environmental justice.”

Unfortunately, both area aldermen, James Balcer and Danny Solis, support the heliport project. The Chicago Plan Commission will consider the proposal on February 20.