Funeral Industry News

Chicago Wins Cemetery Land for New O’Hare Runway

February 9, 2010

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Chicago Wins Cemetery Land for New O’Hare Runway

imageThe City of Chicago on Monday was awarded possession of a 161-year-old cemetery that lies in the path of a future runway at O’Hare International Airport, and the relocation of about 1,200 graves could begin within weeks.

DuPage County Judge Hollis Webster ordered that the title of the 5.3-acre St. Johannes Cemetery in Addison Township be transferred from St. John’s United Church of Christ to the city. She also ordered that Chicago pay the church $630,000 for the land, which stands between two segments of a new runway already under construction.

The acquisition was considered one of the last major impediments to the $15 billion O’Hare Modernization Project.

Webster ruled in December that Chicago had a legal right to use eminent domain proceedings to acquire the site from the church, which has argued against the city’s plan. On Monday she approved Chicago’s motion to acquire the site under quick-claim proceedings after the city said a delay in the runway project could unnecessarily increase the project’s price tag.

City officials said Monday that the current schedule calls for the graves to be moved by spring 2011, allowing for the new runway to be finished and opened by June 2013.

Webster ordered that no graves be moved for at least 20 days to allow church attorneys to file an appeal. The weather also could affect when the graves are moved. The church also will be allowed to argue the $630,000 reimbursement figure at a future date.

The church has maintained for years that the removal of the graves violates the religious beliefs of the church.

According to testimony, the city has hired a company to handle the disinterment. City officials said the city will work with next of kin to have the graves moved to whatever cemeteries they want, within reason, and will pay the relocation costs. About 15 graves already have been relocated by survivors on their own.

The cemetery has existed about half a mile north of Irving Park Road in Addison Township since 1849 but has averaged only about one burial a year over the last 20 years, according to testimony.