I haven't written updates about the Peotone Airport (South Suburban Airport) for some time. I just couldn't help but respond to an editorial in the Chicago Sun Times by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, entitled "Still Waiting on 3rd Airport" that was touted by the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, (SSMMA).
My opposition to the state building a new international airport began in 1987 as part of a small protest outside the IDOT offices on Michigan Avenue. That led to the formation of RURAL, Residents United to Retain Agricultural Land, which I helped get off the ground officially on Aug. 2, 1988. RURAL was the predecessor of the present anti-airport group STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down).
More than 10 years ago I moved out of the area, so I was no longer confronted with the day-to-day assault of my senses in the form of the deteriorating landscape at the hand of the State of Illinois. Much of the land has been sold or taken by the state through eminent domain scattering the inhabitants of the rural community. Perfectly good homes have been razed, homesteads destroyed. I've kept in touch with some of those who remain, despite communications that continue to break my heart. Even now, with each headline, Facebook post, or random thought, I still find myself annoyed. I said in those early days that this airport will never be built. I'd like to stand behind that premise, although who could predict the lengths the state has and will continue to go to try to get this airport built despite its lack of support and lack of need.
That brings me to the editorial written by U.S. Rep. Kelly.
She attempts to paint a dismal picture of O'Hare International Airport, which incidentally has recently reclaimed its rank of the #1 busiest airport in the world. At one point it was third. Ms. Kelly, O'Hare is doing just fine, thank you very much. She goes so far as to call domestic hub operations and cargo potential as in a "decline." Oh really!!!
She touted the increased capacity of a new airport as being roughly 100,000 flights per year at a cost of $1 billion. All that tells me is she has bought into without question, the wildly-inflated numbers the state has used since the project was first envisioned in 1985. What they have done is write, revise, write, revise until their numbers are close to acceptable. Then, even though inflated, they build from there. The foundation of the study of this project is faulty, which logically, all else built upon it merely teeters. The state has gone to great lengths to control the study process, so all of it has been bought and paid for by them. They have had ultimate control. Since the beginning, IDOT has used every trick in the book to paint a rosy picture of this project. It just never really stuck. But they are relentless. They will try anything.
Take the new jobs figures Kelly touts--pie-in-the-sky. I hate to tell her, but the jobs figures have always been overstated. Thanks to the late Suhail al Chalabi and his wife Margery, who have long manipulated the numbers. Suhail is gone now. I wonder who the state will get to produce the salable numbers now?
When an elected official tells you "dollar for dollar, the third airport is a better deal for taxpayers," you better start asking questions. Better yet, you better start electing better officials. Kelly is the replacement for Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is currently finishing his sentence for corruption in a half-way house. He was a big promoter of this airport along with Gov. Pat Quinn, who just lost the election to new Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Building on projections is not wise. Wouldn't it be better to build on past experience? Look at what the state has already done. Mid-America Airport in downstate Illinois is an example of an airport the state had to build to relieve St. Louis' Lambert Field. Trouble is, Mid-America has no air traffic, no airline tenants, and little hope. It does have funding--from the taxpayers.
Kelly suggests that it would be smart for American and United Air Lines to reinvest in Illinois to ensure Illinois as a premier aviation hub. Sorry Ms. Kelly, but Illinois is already a premium aviation hub. It is called O'Hare International Airport. Furthermore, American and United Air Lines have already stated their opposition to a new airport near Peotone. Had you been at all informed about this project and its history, you would know that American and United hate the idea of another new airport. So do all the other air lines that have been on the record for decades opposing this project.
There are far better ways to create jobs for the beleaguered south suburban region of Chicago. An airport 40 miles away is not the answer. The only thing that should be done with the South Suburban Airport is drop it and move on! This project started in 1968. It is about as innovative as transistor radios and 45 rpm records.
As far as the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, they tout this editorial in their website. "Editorial: South Suburban Airport needed to regain aviation market." This group has been the lead voice for three decades. At least they are consistent, but isn't that a long time to beat the same dead horse?
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
It appears that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., (D-Chicago) won't have to lie aboutwhere the proposed Peotone Airport is located. It will finally be in his district.
Jackson has certainly been less than honest about the Peotone Airport, his pet project for the last decade. His insinuation that it was in Illinois' second congressional district, his district has been around so long that even newspapers have wrongly reported it. Truth is, all this time, the proposed Peotone airport has been in the 11th congressional district. We have all seen that when politicians tell a lie often enough, the truth sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.
Jackson lied to his colleagues on the House floor with the claim that the proposed airport is next to Ford Heights, one of the poorest suburbs in the State of Illinois. (see stories below). His aim was to push through earmarks attached to a spending bill.
The truth is the Peotone project is far enough from Ford Heights that it would likely have no effect on the jobless there.
Now, it looks like Jackson will finally be getting his way. If the redistricting plan put forth by Illinois Democrats is approved, and it looks as if it will, Jackson's district will encompass the proposed airport site as well as the small farming towns that surround it.
If the people of eastern Will County complained before about their congressional representation, I fear they haven't seen anything yet.
What does Jesse Jackson, Jr. know about farming, soil and water conservation, growing crops, small town living, or any of the other things that will make such a city mouse totally out of his element in the country. The result of this out-of-character pairing will likely be that he simply ignores the will of the people of eastern Will County. Then again, that is nothing new, since he already has a history of trying to steamroll their rights and dismiss their wishes as he advocates taking their land so he can shove an unneeded airport down their throats.
Public officials in eastern Will County will also likely be void of representation. While mayors and their boards have had a decent rapport with their representatives, this will be a whole new ballgame. Many of the mayors have had scathing things to say about Jackson. Now he will be their representative.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
One of the obstacles facing the State of Illinois in their effort to build a new airport near Peotone, is a 100-year old man named Anthony Rudis.
I know Tony Rudis and believe him to be a formidable opponent. He is right about his claims in a recent newspaper interview. He said IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) is harassing him.
That is their modus operandi. They have harassed the people of eastern Will County for years, dating back to the days I first started following this project, back in 1987.
They forge on despite never getting the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration. Nor does the State of Illinois have the funds to build an airport—funds which are grossly underestimated—because the estimates do not take into account the millions of dollars of infrastructure that would be needed to transform a farming community into a transportation center. In addition, a new airport has never been proven as a necessity for the Chicago region, though numerous state-sponsored studies make that assumption. Finally, despite politicians' claim that without airline partners the airport will never be built. They ignore the airlines' declaration that they will not use an airport at Peotone. Since 1985, this project has remained in a perpetual study phase.
Rudis says it is wrong to use eminent domain to try take property or to threaten to do so even before the Federal Aviation Administration has given the project a green light.
Yet, IDOT continues to try.
Rudis has put his foot down, by not allowing the state to trample onto his property or his rights. He refuses to allow IDOT contractors onto his property to do another assessment of his property's worth. The agency sent out yet another series of letters recently claiming it is their right to inspect the premises in order to appraise his and other properties for the purposes of the airport study. Rudis is right in asking how many times they have to make their assessment. It has been done several times before. Nothing has changed.
Friday, April 23, 2010
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.|
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."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I will remember John Callaway, a quality journalist
I was saddened by the news of the death of John Callaway, one of Chicago's finest journalists. He leaves behind an enviable legacy. He was a good and decent man who excelled at the profession he loved, which allowed him to touch countless lives of people in all walks of life. I am privileged to have been one of them.
I remember when I met him. It was during his final year of hosting Chicago Tonight, which showcases newsmakers and various and often contrasting views of issues. On March 11, 1999, I was part of an invited panel, among former mayors — Dick Benson of Peotone, and Ed Palmer of University Park as well as former Illinois Transportation Secretary Kirk Brown. The subject was Chicago's "third" airport near Peotone. It was a fair fight — two for and two against. Benson and I opposed the project while Palmer and Brown promoted it.
I recall being a bit star-struck. It was a surreal experience — as Benson and I rode the train from the southernmost stop on the Metra Electric Line at University Park to what is now Millennium Station at Chicago, a lengthy cab ride to the north side, and finally onto the show's set at WTTW. Chicago Tonight was as familiar to me as my own living room, yet being there was like seeing it for the first time through a new pair of eyes. Being interviewed by the likes of John Callaway was pretty impressive in itself. Hearing him introduce me was certainly a personal high point. But it was also the pinnacle of the early anti-airport movement. After twelve years, our voices were finally being heard.
So much about those days is locked in my mind, but remains close to the surface. That was ten years ago, and I no longer live in Illinois. And while there is no reason for me to care about what happens, I still do. Revisiting the subject not only brings back the recollection, but remains powerful enough to revive the emotion.
I remember enjoying the confrontation with Kirk Brown, instigated by Callaway.
When I learned of Callaway's death, I wanted to watch a video tape of the show, something I haven't seen since around the time it was recorded. What a fascinating historical perspective. Nothing has changed except the players!
Chicago Tonight's discussion was inspired by then newly-elected Gov. George Ryan who announced downsizing the proposed airport — from 23,000 acres to a mere 4,100 acres. Brown remarked that a scaled-down mini version was Gov. Ryan's idea because "he is a practical man, a doer, who wants results."
Callaway observed that to him Ryan's gesture was the sign of cooperation between the Republican Governor and Democratic Mayor of Chicago. Mayor Richard Daley opposes another airport.
Callaway made mention that "Peotone seems a long way (from Chicago)." He mentioned that he had recently been to the Gary Airport, remarking that it really looked like a "nice facility at Gary."
"We looked at that," Brown said. "From an environmental standpoint, you can't do it." He added that there wasn't enough acreage available. "Gary has no future. There is nothing useable for a major air carrier airport."
I became angry all over again, as I heard Brown misrepresent the potential for the Gary/Chicago International Airport again. During those days, he said it often. It all came back to me; I recall the feeling of helpless injustice that comes when representatives of the government blatantly lie to get what they want.
This might be a good time to point out that George Ryan is absolutely a doer that gets results. And, his efforts have landed him in a federal penitentiary. Kirk Brown now works for the company — Hanson Professional Services, Inc — that he hired when he was secretary — to manage the state-owned land in the airport site. Coincidence? Brown no longer holds the title of secretary. U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., has replaced him as chief airport booster with his own brand of airport rhetoric. He not only repeats Brown's lies, but has added a few of his own.
During the interview, Brown went on about how the airport could be completed in five years — which by my calculations — would have been 2004. He claimed that all that was needed was for the FAA to complete an environmental impact statement. That wasn't quite accurate either. Brown said the Peotone site had no environmental issues that couldn't be mitigated. When a government bureaucrat talks about mitigation, it isn't about a permanent solution to a problem. It is a more likely a temporary fix, accompanied by glowing press releases that cover up problems, usually creating new ones in the process.
So, during our discussion, Callaway asked me if I thought there were environmental concerns at the airport site. I shot back that yes, flooding was a major issue, with all of the many creeks and streams that flow through the airport site. I suggested that when it rains, the flow pattern is obvious. Today, the soil absorbs and drains the water, but that wouldn't happen if the land was paved with concrete and asphalt.
Callaway then asked if perhaps there was a need for an airport to service the southern portion of the region some time in the future. I answered that I didn't think so. I saw future technology as more likely to move toward shorter runways, not longer ones.
Benson talked about high speed rail and how it had begun making headlines. That has begun again with the election of President Barack Obama, but this time with the leadership necessary to move forward on this exciting new mode of transportation, it could become a reality. Kirk Brown's position, though he didn't discuss it on the show, was dismissive of high speed rail. Today's state decision-makers have continued Brown's notion that high speed rail should be built to connect Peotone to downtown Chicago. He refused to accept that high speed rail would serve as competition to aviation, further negating a need for a new airport.
Callaway tried to engage Palmer in a conversation about the people who would be dislocated. Instead, he presented a scripted message about economic development for the south suburbs.
"It is coming. It is a fact that it will be here," he said. "For those dislocated, stop thinking in the past," he said.
Palmer's remarks insulted our intelligence. As a representative of the grass-roots organization Residents United to Retain Agricultural Land (RURAL), my role was to represent the views of our members, many of whom would be displaced by a new airport. To me, thinking in the past was Palmer and Brown trying to push an idea conceived more than 40 years ago.
Watching the tape reminded me that the kind of nonsense which is still being spewed by Jackson and others, still retains the power to annoy me.
Before our introduction on Chicago Tonight, reporter Rich Samuels traveled to the Peotone area to talk to the folks most affected. Providing the balanced view was former Chicago Heights Mayor Angelo Ciambrone.
I felt a pang of homesickness as I watched the tape, remembering the frustration that was displayed on the faces of the people who I felt very close to in those days — people I am no longer in contact with since I retired and left the area.
Warren Gottwald, who years later has since moved away as well, talked about his 40-acre farm that he loved. He said that when he was a young man he thought the American Dream was to own a place with a little creek on it.
"I have that now and they want to take it away from me," he said, admitting, "I'm bitter about this unnecessary airport."
"We need an infusion of an economic giant," Ciambrone said, as he and Samuels toured the urban decay in and around Chicago Heights, a once vibrant, bustling community, rich with jobs, shopping, theaters, and clubs. Someone should have repeated to Ciambrone before he spoke, that the airport he was talking about was scaled down to just one runway and one terminal. Even if it was a smashing success, it wouldn't be an economic giant. The reality is that the airlines who oppose the project would likely continue to oppose it. Instead of a boon, it likely could be an economic drain like Illinois' other boondoggle airport, Mid-America near downstate Mascoutah which has been virtually a ghost town since it was built a decade ago.
A scaled-down airport would duplicate what is now in Gary, accessible by only tar and chip roads instead of highways that serve Gary. How has Gary's airport provided an economic benefit? For that matter, where is the economic benefit in Maywood, that isn't far from one of the busiest airports in the world — O'Hare? Sadly, an airport more than 20 miles away would likely change nothing in the south suburbs. And, it is time to admit that economic development cannot in itself change generational illiteracy, poor schools, gang crime, high murder rate, crooked cops, drug dealing, and a pathetic political structure that does nothing but make excuses.
The video portrayed the rich farm fields and wide open spaces where the airport is actually proposed. The contrast was startling. Samuels went to Peotone — which remains a quaint, little Rockwellian town with a viable downtown where people still gather to talk, shop, and frequent restaurants and saloons. While there, Samuels talked to people who said what they have been saying for the past 20 years when the project was revived by Ryan's predecessor, Gov. Jim Edgar. And they are still saying them. They want to keep their way of life, free of the airport 'dangling here,' as Mary Ann Talamontez, who works in the local doctor's office, put it.
Judi Austell, who owns the local beauty shop, said she wished the state would just make up its mind.
"Let's be fair. The people will be compensated fairly," Ciambrone said. Glenn Ginder, who farms for a living, was concerned about the cavalier attitude that folks in the path of runways can simply relocate.
"How do you put a price on food, family, or our church," he said.
Callaway wisely commented that the debate would likely continue.
I had been interviewed many times over the years. But, I was most impressed with John Callaway — for his knowledge on the subject, the questions he posed, and the understanding he held for the victims who still live with the uncertainty of this 40-year old project. His calm demeanor was capped by his keen sense of the politics involved, which was a hallmark of his stature as a journalist. Chicago has lost one of its brightest and best.