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Helipad Plans Could Signal Sonic Assault On Near South Side

By JoshMogerman in News on Feb 9, 2014 9:00PM

Same Level as the Helicopter [NathanMac87]

Cue “Ride of the Valkyries,” as the helicopters are set to descend on Pilsen…literally. Two different plans for helipads bookending the near South Side may have local advocates fresh off their win over the infamous coal plants formerly in their midst shifting gears from fighting air pollution to noise pollution.

The city council has already authorized a “vertiport” helicopter facility in the Illinois Medical District on a vacant 10-acre site near 15th and Wood St., close to Stroger Hospital.

The landing pads will support emergency medical needs, but are also seen by many in City Hall as a long-awaited replacement for, as the Trib terms it, “Corporate honchos and high-level government officials [that] used to fly into Meigs [Field].”

Medical emergencies would get priority, but City officials noted the project was used in wooing Archer Daniels Midland to bring its offices to Chicago.

Less than a mile and a half to the southeast, where Halsted Street crosses the Chicago River across from the now-shuttered Fisk coal plant, a different “Blue Thunder” dream could take shape. DNA Info has been following plans to squeeze facilities for a dozen choppers onto a narrow 4.6 acre strip that would launch aerial tours of downtown and accommodate private helicopters near the CTA’s Orange line.

Neighbors, who had hoped for a greener future along the river now that their year’s long campaign has closed the coal plant, are just catching up to the proposal. And, according to DNAInfo, they are concerned:

"Honestly, this whole thing is a bit of a sucker punch for us," said Jerry-Mead Lucero of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

Lucero, who said he just found out about the plans for the heliport at 24th and Halsted streets earlier this week, said his group had just begun discussing plans for the Illinois Medical District heliport, just north of Pilsen.

Now, he said, his group is concerned about potential pollution from both operations.

"It seems to me, from what I've seen, both of these projects have been kept largely under the radar," said Lucero, who's also concerned about noise levels from helicopters taking off and landing close to the neighborhood.

"We're a bit overwhelmed. One is bad, but two is really bad," he said.

One land owner in the area who has looked closely at the plans confided his concerns to Chicagoist that the noise pollution from a fleet of tourist helicopters could limit redevelopment potential in the area and adversely impact quality of life, noting to us:

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 book-ended with two heliports.

There are many studies that show helicopter noise is very 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.

Just like the growing mounds of oil refining waste blighting back yards and the banks of the Calumet River on the Southeast Side, we are left wondering if this the best use of the waterways passing through Chicago’s neighborhoods?

While the Chicago’s status as “the largest city in the world without a place to land a helicopter,” may indeed warrant action, concerns that Pilsen, Bridgeport and Chinatown will be deafened by a swarm of rotors on all sides seem worthy of a closer look before the sonic assault begins.