Thursday, June 12, 2008

Township officials ask for independent airport needs study

Three Eastern Will County Township Supervisors are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to finally answer the question of need for another area airport. And, they are asking that the study be done by an independent organization.

A letter appeared this morning, June 12 in the Chicago Tribune. It was penned by three township supervisors: Patti Schoenbeck, Monee; Brian Cann, Will; and Bob Howard, Washington.

The three would like to see an independent study that considers all local infrastructure costs, as well as actual and projected revenue losses that would result from IDOT’s plans to remove up to 35 square miles of eastern Will County real estate from the tax rolls. They write that the study should evaluate airport-related costs and benefits based on various scenarios, including an assumption that a Peotone airport would attract no daily commercial passenger service for many years, if ever.

The letter also debunks the state’s “third airport,” title.

“In a 1988 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Wisconsin’s contention that Milwaukee's Mitchell Field, which serves many people from northern Illinois, is the third regional airport. In a 2008 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Indiana's contention that Gary-Chicago Airport - a Midway-like facility that has yet to attract regularly scheduled commercial passenger service - is the region's third airport,” the trio writes. They ask if Chicagoland really needs a fifth regional airport.

The letter was prompted by a story in the Tribune last month that claims long lead times are nothing new in the airport game. It cites the contrast of the rapid construction of O’Hare Airport a half century ago with today’s protracted efforts to build public works projects. As example, the writer drew the example of the current O’Hare expansion plan and the proposed Peotone airport.

The three township supervisors point out, “A little-noticed advantage of long lead time is that policymakers can reconsider the initial premise before final decisions are cast in concrete.”

They also state that two decades have passed since Illinois taxpayers began footing the bill for Peotone “studies,” yet the question remains whether there is any public benefit to paving over the farm fields of Eastern Will County.

Historically, the question of need for a new airport has had little study. In countless airport meetings over the past twenty years, sponsored by various organizations, citizens have attempted to ask the question of need. Invariably that turned into the meeting sponsor scolding, “This is not the time to debate who is for or against an airport.” Perhaps now is time for that debate.

An independent study would be a welcome change. Most of the studies have been performed by IDOT-chosen consultants were paid by IDOT. It is no secret that such consultants are generally paid to produce a desired conclusion. Since Illinois became the sole sponsor for the project, the same consultants – TAMS, which has been taken over by Earth-Tech and the sub consultants, the al Chalabi Group, Ltd. — have been used, despite questions about the assumptions used, and the conclusions they have reached.