Time to Set the Record Straight On Peotone Airport

Guest Commentary
By Judy Ogalla
Vice President of STAND

Gov. Pat Quinn is not the first governor to give lip service to building a new airport near Peotone. Nearly every governor since Richard Ogilvie has made a similar statement. Yet, the project has been permanently grounded, unable to fly out of the perennial planning phase.

And despite Peotone airport boosters with deep pockets — like former Bensenville Mayor John Geils and Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson — who have used tax dollars to wing their way across the nation decrying O’Hare airport expansion, the O’Hare plan is still on track. Both Mayor Craig Johnson and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. have stated that if O’Hare is expanded, the proposed Peotone airport would not be needed. We in eastern Will County agree there is no need for an airport in Peotone. Yet they persist at the taxpayers’ expense. All the tax money that is wasted on their efforts flies in the face of their claims that there is ZERO cost to building Peotone, as was recently stated by Algernon Penn, of the Friends of ALNAC.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are project costs that haven’t been identified yet, such as the infrastructure an airport would require. This rural area uses well water and still refers to some roads as “the blacktop.” Millions of dollars would be needed to transform this rural, agricultural area into an urban center to make an airport fit. Local, state, and federal taxpayers would pay the tab.

ALNAC’s campaign to lobby former Gov. Blagojevich, to turn over tax-supported land, was paid for by local municipalities, using tax dollars. Only about one-third of the land needed for the inaugural plan is currently owned by the state. The remaining 2/3 is privately owned and would be acquired by taxpayers’ money and taken by the forceful use of eminent domain. The double whammy for eastern Will County folks is that as the land is purchased, its tax benefit to the local governments and schools is lost as well.

Mayor Geils lost his bid for reelection Tuesday. Perhaps it was those kinds of false claims that proved too much for the citizens of Bensenville, or perhaps they simply could no longer tolerate the money from their village and others that for so long has bankrolled the push for Peotone. Or maybe they were simply tired of the court costs incurred as Geils’ continued his relentless clamor against O’Hare expansion. Whatever the reason, the people of eastern Will County certainly rejoice in Geils’ defeat.

It is hard to imagine how Geils could keep a straight face as he whined about how the City of Chicago was “ripping the social fabric out of our community.” Yet that is exactly the fate he and some of the other mayors pushing the proposed airport have advocated for the people in eastern Will County. While lobbying against federal stimulus money for O’Hare recently, Geils accused the city’s use of eminent domain as a huge club that brought Bensenville and its neighbors to its knees. He said it was wrong, ” that a municipality has been able to rip the guts out of another municipality,” yet that is exactly what he and others have done to the residents of eastern Will County.

Geils and his allies sought protection against eminent domain by obtaining court ordered prohibitions in both the state and federal courts that barred the City of Chicago from acquiring property in their communities for O’Hare expansion until after the FAA issued is final EIS and record of decision. Eastern Will County residents demand and deserve that same protection.

The people of eastern Will County are tired of the lies that have gone on since we first learned of this project, back in 1988. We have watched the consultants weave their “assumptions” into the computer models during the study process.

We have watched Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. stand on the floor of congress in 2007 making the claim that the airport will benefit Ford Heights, which he said “abuts Peotone.” Park Forest residents certainly know that isn’t true. Jackson has misrepresented the location of the airport for so long that maybe he has forgotten that it isn’t even located in his district.

The jobs claim for the proposed Peotone airport is also misleading. It has already brought jobs, though not the kind needed to stave off high unemployment that is now being experienced. Instead the jobs associated with the Peotone airport have gone to planners, consultants, lawyers, demolition crews and public relations firms that have made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 20 years.

It’s time to stop the lies. It’s time to stop wasting tax dollars for an airport that has not even achieved regional consensus as many local governmental entities and organizations have shown their position against this airport by referendum and resolutions. It’s time to plan for sustainability for future generations, not the obliteration of highly productive agricultural lands.

This project was conceived just after the mid-20th Century. Isn’t it time to get on to some 21st century ideas like the use of high-speed rail? And don’t the people of eastern Will County deserve similar protections as their cousins in the northwest suburbs? We at STAND think the time is now.

Judy Ogalla
Vice President of STAND