Friday, April 23, 2010

Eminent domain for Peotone Airport must be halted


The Illinois Green Party has aligned with the anti-airport group STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) as they call for the state to halt spending on land in eastern Will County. They say the state's plan, to use eminent domain to take two parcels totaling 500 acres, is simply not justified.

Locator Map of Will County, Illinois, 1853. Ba...
Locator Map of Will County, Illinois, 1853. 
At the same time that Gov. Pat  Quinn talks about controlling spending, he continues to support squandering $105 million to condemn family farms at the site of the proposed Peotone airport in the far southern reaches of the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

The reality is that the state is $13 billion in debt.

George Ochsenfeld, president of STAND, who is also running as a Green Party candidate for State Representative in the 79th district, expressed outrage that Quinn's land purchases are going forward despite the fact that the FAA is at least two years from making a decision whether or not to authorize the project. He says spending millions to purchase land at this time is a gamble. According to the state's official website, IDOT recently spent $2.2 million to purchase a 160-acre property. Their pending 500-acre purchases will likely cost millions more.

"Buying the land now may bring political benefits for the airport's sponsors, and there may be some short-term financial benefits for contractors and developers," said Ochsenfeld, "but this airport is going to be a hard sell for travelers, and it has already done significant damage to long-time residents of the region."

Two eminent domain cases are pending for a 300-acre parcel and a 200-acre parcel. The cases will be heard in the Will County Circuit Court in Joliet.

STAND contends that eminent domain should be halted until five criteria are met:

Funding (either private, public, or some combination of the two) is secured
The FAA issues a final record of decision for airport construction for the project and is made public
Funding for necessary surrounding infrastructure is secured
A panel of independent transportation experts is convened to determine whether there is a need for the project
A major airline has committed to using the facility
Jobs Outlook Questionable

State officials continue to make the claim that jobs are the impetus behind the airport, yet there is little evidence to suggest that the number of jobs they predict will ever materialize. The state continues to make bloated claims of job-creation. Using old data and outdated jobs forecasts for an expanded 22,000-acre project during a robust economy and healthy aviation industry, state officials continue to blur the line between aviation reality and the fantasy that a new airport will bring economic prosperity to some of the poorest regions of the state.

"The airport plan has been marketed by its proponents as a jobs program, but it's doubtful that the jobs will ever come," says Scott Summers, Green Party candidate for Illinois Treasurer. "Today, the State of Illinois is spending $3 for every $2 it takes in. We're basically broke, and yet the governor is gambling on a project that does not have local support, federal approval or any commitments from the industry that is supposedly going to be using it.

"Illinois has many examples of unnecessary and under-utilized infrastructure, from the MidAmerica Airport near St. Louis to the Thomson prison. We ought to know by now that building unnecessary infrastructure means the jobs may never materialize as promised," continued Summers. "This airport promises to be yet another long-term financial burden on the taxpayers."

"The state does not have financing to build the airport or for necessary surrounding infrastructure," said Ochsenfeld. "Not only that, the airline industry is against the project, O'Hare is being expanded, the Gary airport is being expanded, the airlines are in disaster mode, with O'Hare having the lowest number of flights in 15 years."

"We have more than 30 resolutions and referendums from surrounding villages, townships, other units of government, and from citizens' groups against the project," Ochsenfeld said. That doesn't include the thousands of signatures on petitions that have been delivered to the state through the dozens of years this project has been stuck in perpetual planning mode.

Sustainability is an issue

The State of Illinois plans to acquire a total of 22,000 acres (34 square miles) of mostly prime farmland, much of which is owned by 4th- and 5th-generation local farmers. "This is a crime against future generations, who will need productive soil," said Bob Mueller, a Will County native and candidate for State Representative, in DuPage County's 47th district.

"Rural Will County is rapidly disappearing, and with it will go, not just a way-of-life, but the self-sustainability of the region. Yet for many politicians involved, it may take a major food or energy crisis before they realize the folly in paving over highly productive farmland."

Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, a long-time opponent of the Peotone airport project, said: "We as a society need to be moving toward more energy-efficient and less-polluting and potentially non-polluting modes of transportation, like high-speed rail, not promoting more of the same wasteful modes of transportation that have created the crisis.

"The Peotone Airport is a horribly misguided investment of public capital, that may enrich a few speculators and politicians but will likely end up being a white elephant —  with taxpayers left to cover the inevitable losses and all of us paying for the consequences of unsustainable modes of transportation."


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