Chicago can now move to acquire St. Johannes Cemetery to make room for its $7.5 billion runway reconfiguration and expansion of O’Hare International Airport after a federal appellate court denied a request to leave an injunction in place as opponents appeal a recent decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling lifting the injunction was issued Dec. 14 by the 7th Circuit Appellate Court in Chicago. A group of suburban opponents and representatives of St. John’s United Church of Christ, which owns the cemetery, wanted the two-year-old injunction to remain in place as they prepare an appeal of the court’s decision that the cemetery’s relocation does not violate federal religious freedom laws.“This ruling means that the O’Hare Modernization Program will continue moving forward with acquisition of St. Johannes Cemetery,” said the program’s executive director, Rosemarie S. Andolino. “We will respectfully request that the court quickly determine the value of the cemetery so that we can complete acquisition, begin the relocation process, and maintain the schedule for commissioning future Runway 10C-28C.” The demolition is required as the city moves into the second phase of the runway project. The group has vowed to pursue the case to the Supreme Court. A 7th Circuit panel ruled in September that the acquisition doesn’t violate federal law. The opponents filed a petition for the court to rehear the case, but that was denied earlier this month. They contend an Illinois law approved as part of the state legislation paving the way for the expansion violated federal First Amendment protections of religious rights.Chicago offered $630,000 to purchase the cemetery in March 2006, but that offer was rejected. The city in October initiated condemnation proceedings. It has so far acquired 533 of the 611 parcels needed in Bensenville.Meanwhile, the planned sale of nearly $1 billion of O’Hare related new-money and refunding revenue bonds remains on the day-to-day calendar. The city initially planned to sell the bonds early this month but decided to hold it due to current interest rates and to watch the market. The deal is not expected to price until early next year. Lehman Brothers is the senior manager.Overall, the first phase of the runway expansion relies on $1.6 billion of general airport revenue bonds, $659 million of bonds backed by passenger facility charges and general airport revenues, $330 million of federal grants, and the pay-as-you-go use of PFCs. Airlines have so far approved only the first phase. Negotiations are ongoing over the next phase.
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