The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would not consider an appeal filed by a group of suburban opponents of Chicago’s expansion of O’Hare International Airport challenging a lower court ruling that had cleared the path for the city to acquire and relocate a cemetery.
Because the court denied the petition to hear the case, a decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the city to acquire St. Johannes Cemetery and demolish it to make way for the airport’s expansion will stand.
“We are extremely pleased with today’s Supreme Court order,” Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O’Hare Modernization Program, said in a statement Monday. “With the Court of Appeals’ ruling final, we will continue to move forward with acquisition of the cemetery and will be contacting next of kin in order to begin the relocation process.”
The owners of the cemetery, St. John’s United Church, and several suburbs adjacent to the airport on the northwestern edge of Chicago have waged a legal battle on several fronts against the $7.52 billion project to reconfigure and expand O’Hare’s runways. The group had argued that the acquisition of the cemetery violated First Amendment freedom of religion protections.
A separate case challenging the viability of the financing scheme for the project is pending before the District of Columbia appellate court. The opponents contend that the Federal Aviation Administration should not have approved federal grants for the project.
Overall, the $3 billion first phase of the expansion relies on $1.6 billion of general airport revenue bonds, $659 million of bonds backed by passenger facilities 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, with negotiations ongoing over the next phase.
The project calls for the airport’s runways to be reconfigured to a parallel configuration from the current intersecting one, allowing O’Hare to handle 1.2 million flights annually and helping to reduce delays that occur in poor weather and affect the national air travel grid. The FAA approved the plan in 2005.