Friday, July 2, 2010

Illinois officials wrong to force eminent domain at Peotone

I don't care how you slice it—government trying to seize people's property for their own amusement is just plain wrong.

Will Township Highway Commissioner Bruce Hamman and STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) President George Ochsenfeld who is also a Green Candidate for State Rep. in the 79th District express their views of the state's actions to tear down another livable home.
Yet that is just what is happening in Illinois, about 40 miles south of the City of Chicago as the Illinois Department of Transportation continues the folly of advocating for a new airport near Peotone.

Illinois officials are shameless as they try to coerce people out of their homes and property. It seems they especially like to target the elderly, going after those whose will has been worn down through the continuous struggles of everyday life during the past sixty, seventy, and eighty years. Aren't these the very people state officials should be fighting for rather than against?

Illinois Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Director Susan Shea is the state's mouthpiece who continues to rave about the benefits of a new airport; its need has never been proven. This is despite the efforts of five different state administrations at the helm—Governors Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Blagojevich, and now Quinn. All of them have used their lieutenants to sell the project to the public, to the airlines, and to the Federal Aviation Administration. None of those crucial agencies or people have bought into the state's rosy information.

Eminent domain should be used for real projects

For Shea to threaten to use eminent domain to take people's property, for a project that hasn't even been approved by the federal government, seems almost criminal.

Susan Shea should be fired for bragging to newspapers about how this is a great time to go after property since the real estate market has been depressed and property values are lower.

Isn't the government supposed to work for the people, not for the whim of government authoritarians? The country and the state are struggling financially so it should invest wisely, but at the expense of shaking down the taxpaying public? The state is trying to usurp its power in every way it can to muscle people out of their property.

Hedging their bets

One of the state's ploys is to destroy neighborhoods. They have been doing it methodically since they demolished the first home in 2001. Perfectly good dwellings on beautiful land are being decimated for no good reason other than to further depress the property values. I wonder what one of Illinois' struggling homeless families would think if they saw the giant steel jaws rip into a perfectly livable home, turning it into a pile of rubble.

Anyone who lives in the State of Illinois should clamor for an end to the state's folly and the terrorist tactics to the people who live there.

Wouldn't the state be better served to rent properties rather than destroying them? And as the homes are leveled, the neighborhood continues to lose value, which plays into the state's hands as well.

The only benefit to actually building an airport would be to finally wipe it off the books with a check mark under 'look what we can do!' Wouldn't a bottle of white-out be more prudent?

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent to try to sell this idea, not to mention the gazillion man-hours using highly-paid political operatives, consultants, lawyers, planners, map-makers, and so much more dating back to 1987. All this is for a little runway among the cornfields in eastern Will County—despite the same thing that already exists and is underserved at Gary and Milwaukee airports.  I would think there are better ways for Illinois officials to spend the people's money.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The road to Peotone along a path of corruption

Illinois State Capitol
Illinois State Capitol (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

State of Illinois officials are enthusiastic about building the Illiana Expressway.

It is often referred as the road to Peotone, the ill-fated 1968-to-present proposal to build a new airport south of Chicago, and with good reason. At one time, the State of Illinois, Department of Transportation identified the road, now called the Illiana Expressway, as the northernmost access road to the Peotone Airport. Though it was considered by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority as the southernmost leg of Interstate 355, that portion was considered to be part of the airport project.

After watching several Illinois legislatures and governors botch the decision-making process favors its corrupt pay-to-play system during the 1980's and '90's, the Illiana project may come to fruition. If it does, of the three proposed routes, I predict the one chosen will ultimately mirror the one drawn onto maps of the South Suburban Airport (SSA) decades ago.

For the record, I dislike calling the project the South Suburban Airport. Its location is rural, far from the south suburbs. The name falsely paints a picture of prosperity for some of the most beleaguered towns in Illinois. To believe that a one-runway and terminal building 40 miles south of Chicago will benefit or even affect the south suburbs is akin to believing in the tooth fairy.

I believe the airport is dead and never had a chance of success, and that the Illiana Expressway is the state's fall-back position. Supporters of concrete and asphalt who thrive on decimating farm fields and small towns can probably learn to be content with a ribbon of pavement rather than the huge paved square they had hoped for. After all, politics is the art of compromise.

That doesn't mean they won't continue to try. The Peotone Airport is written into every report and drawn on every map at the local, state, and federal levels. Government can be diligent when it comes to rubber stamping their desires onto as many documents as they can create. The Peotone proposition is as prolific as the writing on bathroom walls. For anyone who thinks the state has gone on to other things, they may be surprised to learn that it still dominates the development-at-all-cost discussions in planning meetings, board rooms, and on legislative agendas. Illinois Department of Transportation officials are always looking for new ways to try to sell their pet project. That is difficult when the project has been around as long as Ziploc bags and Pringles potato chips.

For some odd reason, the politicos in Illinois refuse to let go of this dinosaur. Perhaps their habitual hanging on has gone on so long that they just don't know how to let go, despite numerous opportunities to do the right thing; walk away from the project. There have been ways to heroically turn toward other things—tend to more necessary projects—and at the same time, keep their politics in-tact. But they have refused to do it.

The players have seemingly changed over the many years, but the difference is indiscernible. A governor here, a congressman there; they are all cut from the same expensive cloth borne out of a culture of greed and corruption.

My biggest disappointment is that the power really does lie with the people who have the ability to cut them off at the voting booth. Yet, too few have bothered to get involved, educate themselves, and/or make the connection to what is wrong and who is making decisions.

One of those who did bother to get involved was John Walliser, a homebuilder from Lockport Township. He was one of the victims of the state's desire to build Interstate 355 who saw his house demolished despite the fact that it never was in the path of the tollway. He was largely responsible for the 1996 court order that halted construction of the road builders until the state complied with federal law.

In the following file, Walliser details the story of I-355 and the state's corrupt officials. He names names of the government officials involved in the state's endemic corruption, with a focus on Sen. Roland Burris, as Illinois Attorney General. Walliser shows that Burris manipulated the state's culture of pay-to-play corruption for his own benefit.

Walliser discusses the laws that were meant to safeguard the public but don't. Entitled The Long and Winding Road to Peotone , Walliser connects the I-355 debacle to the state's wrongful attempts to acquire property for an airport that is neither approved nor imminent. His compelling arguments cannot be ignored.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

An Ozark tribute for those who never met him


Lurch, the local "Guinness World Records" African Watusi steer who gained world acclaim in 2003 because of the size of his enormous horns, has died. Lurch was 14 years old.


At the time of his induction into the record book, Lurch's horns measured a circumference of 95.25 cm. or 37.5 inches—the world's largest. And they were still growing.

Born in 1995, Lurch came to live at Rocky Ridge Refuge in Gassville, Arkansas when he was only five weeks old. He shared 15 acres that Wolf inherited from her father, with a number of other animals, under the care of refuge creator, Janis Wolf who relies on donations and volunteers for the care and feeding of all her animals.

Lurch made the national television spotlight when he and his friends were highlighted on the Ellen DeGeneres show a couple years ago. Donations helped build a new barn and feed for the animals.

Wolf, who holds a masters degree in human rehabilitation and experience as a veterinary technician, is the sole caregiver to as many animals as happen to turn up at her place. She has devoted everything she has to her animals which, include a water buffalo, zebra, llamas, sheep, goats, countless dogs, cats, baby deer, raccoons, and all other kinds of critters. She has animals who have gone blind, become crippled, or just don't have a home. There are plenty of dogs and cats to be adopted as well.

Wolf has lost a special friend with the loss of Lurch.

Watch a video tribute to him at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z46M6Fcik4E

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Illiana Expressway gets another green light


The Illiana Expressway has been given the go-ahead—first in Indiana—and now in Illinois. Legislation that would allow the project to move forward through a public-private partnership awaits the governor's signature. That act will simply be a formality since Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn considers the project to be his future legacy.

What a disappointment Pat Quinn has been to so many who had hoped his fight-for-the-little-guy attitude could transform the governor's mansion, still lingering from the ill repute of its former occupants.

Instead, Quinn has embraced previous administration's tactics in his clamor for votes to keep him in the style to which he has become accustomed. Politics as usual is deeply entrenched in the Land of Lincoln.

The Illiana Expressway has been just another politically-motivated bad joke perpetrated on the people of Illinois who have had to pay for it.

It is a smokescreen for the South Suburban Airport/Peotone Airport as pointed out in an insightful column by Guy Tridgell in the May 11, 2010 Southtown Star . Tridgell called the Illiana "our very own Tobacco Road," referencing the 1932 novel by Erskine Caldwell that ends with the tragic death of the main characters.

"The airport has become the crazy aunt of Illinois who's permanently locked up in the attic. She is dying a slow, quiet death," Tridgell wrote.

He concluded, "They don't want to tell the constituents that they have failed, so they have created a new project as a diversion with the hope everyone stays quiet. The Illiana Expressway - the perfect smoke screen."

Tridgell is correct. The Illiana—once a part of the far-reaching, far-fetched 23,000-acre airport project—may be all that is left of Illinois' once grandiose plans.

But while Illinois officials and airport boosters hope the Illiana becomes the yellow-brick road to their avionic version of Oz, they may find that by using the same tactics, same tired arguments, and attempts at factual manipulation, the road may suffer the same fate as the airport.

The game changer, however, may be something Illinois officials rarely think about; it is the one thing that has surprised them in the past—Indiana.

At the same time that Illinois officials are crowing about their passed-too-quickly legislation to build the Illiana Expressway, Indiana officials look at the Illiana as a real tool for economic development and job creation.

Indiana's version of Oz also has an airport—the Gary/Chicago International Airport—that is real, viable, and a potential money-maker rather than the black hole for money that has been the Peotone Airport project. An Illiana Expressway could be a benefit to the transportation network in place in Indiana. Instead of the tar and chip roads that traverse the area where Illinois wants to bring millions of passengers per year, pavement leads to Indiana's airport. The Illiana could be an enhancement.

The Illiana could bring additional access to the Gary/Chicago airport.

Tridgell also called attention to the fact that neither state owns land for the project, nor has an exact location even been identified. Additional studies are needed. It could be decades before a spade of dirt is turned.

Given the amount of time devoted to the Peotone Airport, and the lack of will to make sweeping changes in the way Illinois does its business, there is little doubt that Illinois politicians and their employees will still be hawking the Illiana Expressway in the year 2040 and beyond.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s irony


It is indeed ironic that Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. would complain about ex-governor Rod Blagojevich "wheeling and dealing."

Note the following from an April 15 column in the Southtown Star, "Jesse Jr. re-emerges in Blagojevich case." by Kristen McQueary.

      Months after Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd), of  Chicago, told me it was impossible to interact with Blagojevich without "him wheeling and dealing and trying to extract something out of you."
Blagojevich reportedly told Jackson early on that he didn't hire his wife, Sandi, as lottery director because her application wasn't accompanied by a $25,000 campaign donation. Jackson said he turned to federal prosecutors for help when private developers willing to build a south suburban airport experienced Blagojevich's extortion.
"I have worked with four governors," Jackson said back then. "It wasn't until I came into contact with the Blagojevich administration that they sought to shake down the developers. (Blagojevich's) behavior was so unacceptable to me that I took that information to the U.S. attorney because how can we build our state if every time someone wants to invest and create jobs, they have to go through a political gauntlet of 'gimme, gimme, gimme?' "

"Jackson's interpretation was ironic considering that he emerges, again, in the government documents released Wednesday," McQueary said.

Ironic indeed, but let's take that one step farther.  The irony is that Jackson complained about Blagojevich doing what he himself has been doing for years. His entire motive for building a new airport near Peotone was about gimme, gimme, gimme.

Jackson is all about control of contracts, concessions, votes, and whatever else might be beyond my imagination.

Many suspect that Jackson got his nose out of joint because Blagojevich didn't satisfy his needs. His wife didn't get the political job he wanted for her—heading the state lottery—and he didn't he get approval for his pet project. So he complained to the authorities.

Both Jackson and Blagojevich are poster children for what is wrong in Illinois politics.

But, if you ask me, Blagojevich shaking down fat cats is far less bothersome than Jackson trying to feather his own nest off the backs of innocent people.

Jackson has misrepresented the truth to his own colleagues to make Peotone look viable, manipulated facts by making people think a runway will solve economic woes in his district, and tried his own version of shaking down four governors, with the promise to deliver votes.


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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Saturday, April 10, 2010

University Park bad behavior


I do not condone writing mills, those quantity vs. quality online writing sites that pepper the internet with works of well-intentioned writers who are paid far too little for their efforts. My criticism is of the sites, much more than of the writers.

In some cases, the content is worth far more than what the writer ever receives in compensation.

Such was the case in a recent article by Peter Bella, for Examiner.com.

Entitled "University Park or Gorky Park?", Bella discusses the behavior of a village official in University Park, a south suburb of Chicago. This story is worth noting, because it was not the subject of Chicago's mainstream media.

Congressional candidate Isaac Hayes, R-Park Forest, a congressional candidate who is mounting a challenge against U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Chicago was invited to a private networking event in his neighboring town of University Park, according to Bella. The April 7 event was hosted by Jennifer Day of Daylight Media, Bella explained.

He went on to describe how University Park Village President Al McCowan threw him out of the event because he was a Republican.

McCowan is a well-known supporter of Jackson, who was not at the event.

"About one hour into the event, Hayes was angrily asked to leave the event immediately by University Park Mayor Alvin McCowan," Bella wrote. "The mayor then brought the hostess to tears with a tirade about inviting a Republican to the event. It should be noted also that many of Mr. Hayes staff members are White and were treated in a bigoted manner (sic) my the mayor and his staff." Both McCowan and Hayes are black.

“I guess this Mayor doesn’t believe his community has a right to decide for themselves, considering Rainbow Push’s material was placed in full sight and not taken down”, said a Hayes spokesman, according to a Hayes Press Release. “If Jesse Jackson Jr. had a sponsored table here tonight it would be business as usual”.

Bella concluded, "Alvin McCowan is disgusting, despicable, deplorable, and detestable.  Evidently he thinks he can just do what he wants, when he wants, and get away with it.  He is right too.  No one in the local Chicago media have covered this so far.  There has been no condemnation, no editorials, nothing.

University Park is a little bit of the old Soviet Union right here in our own backyard."