Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NY Times continues one-sided campaign for Peotone

Amazingly, another op-ed column has been written in the New York Times today about the Peotone Airport from a perspective that mirrors that of Jesse Jackson, Jr., by columnist Bob Herbert. This makes two in the last four days This one was entitled "Stifling an opportunity." You can read it here .

I have had a few emails alerting me to this story, but the first was from Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s e-mail distribution list at http://www.jessejacksonjr.org/distlist.htm   This is the link, just in case you would like to become a subscriber. The email said the following:

Today Bob Herbert writes, “An airport is a very different public works project than a bridge or a road,” he said. “The jobs that come with the development of an airport range from construction to taxicab drivers, to the hotel and motel industry, to Avis and Hertz, which buy cars by the fleet, to Federal Express and DHL, and all those others who staff and manage the airport. Corporate head-quarters frequently locate near an airport. In terms of employment, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

"The goal from the beginning has been to keep the proposed airport out of the clutches of Chicago’s notorious “pay-to-play” tradition.

That is the most likely reason that this project, with its potential to unleash so many jobs, has taken so long to get off the ground."

 Perhaps Mr. Jackson is trying to show support for his plan to coerce Gov. Pat Quinn. He is probably seeking an agreement to let ALANC become a co-sponsor with Illinois for the airport.

I have often been accused of being one-sided, though what I wrote was always to the best of my ability, based on facts. So, I thought I might enlighten Mr. Herbert about some of the facts he left out of his column:

Mr. Herbert,

Endling a 40-year old nightmare is hardly stifling an opportunity. Please stop doing a disservice to your readers. There is far more to the airport story than the one Jesse Jackson, Jr. tells. 

As a local reporter/editor I was writing about the proposal to build an airport near Peotone since long before Jesse Jackson, Jr. went to Washington. I have written countless stories for the local paper for more than 20 years. The paper is officially opposed to the project and for years has displayed a 'no airport' logo on its masthead.

Prior to that I was a young wife and mother who had hoped to raise my two children in the beaucolic rural eastern Will County. When I heard about how building an airport larger than O'Hare, just a few miles from where I grew up, was to be a panacea for the region, I had questions. I joined with several others following an FAA meeting in our small town. We wanted answers, but were not given any. We formed a group to oppose the airport. It was 1988. Though I no longer live there, the opposition remains organized.

I'm glad you realize the proposed third airport is outside Jackson's district. By the way, it would actually be the Chicago area's sixth airport sharing with — O'Hare, Midway, Gary, Milwaukee, and Rockford. But, so is the Gary/Chicago International Airport, which is closer to Jackson's constituency than Peotone. Different county/different state – what's the difference to people who need jobs? Jackson is a U.S. Congressman who should concern himself with jobs in the country, not just the south side of Chicago, and at others' expense. If airport jobs were available, Jackson's constituents could get jobs at Gary much easier than at Peotone. But perhaps jobs really aren't his concern. 

Jackson's association with the late Henry Hyde, shocked everyone because the two had opposite philosophical and political views. Yet they found one common thread, hostility toward Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago, via O'Hare International Airport. Jackson was attracted to the northwest suburbs and Hyde's long fight against Chicago's control of O'Hare. The northwest suburban officials, who have fought O'Hare expansion endlessly, simply fit Jackson's criteria. Daley was forced into the 'third airport' fray because Hyde's GOP cronies in the Illinois General Assembly tried to exclude Chicago, which has title to one of the busiest airports in the world, from studies of Chicago airport capacity, in 1985. It was ludicrous to exclude the primary airport sponsor from such a study, but like many things related to this project, Illinois officials tried. 

I readily admit that O'Hare was an economic engine and magnet for jobs because it replaced Midway during a booming post-war economy, a time when aviation was growing exponentially. But O'Hare was the primary airport for the growing region. Only a fool would predict similar growth with a redundant sixth airport, especially during the current economy and condition of aviation. 

Had Jackson used all the wasted energy he has devoted to this ill-conceived project, outside his congressional district, perhaps he would have been able to develop some of the brown field areas and create jobs in his own district. Or perhaps he could have put efforts into redeveloping the site of the long-defunct Dixie Square Shopping Mall in Harvey, the one destroyed during the filming of the Blue Brothers movie in 1980. Though the shopping center has been demolished, the land has yet to be redeveloped. 

Or perhaps instead of trying to obliterate some of the best farmland in the country, Jackson could have examined the rail and intermodal freight potential in his own backyard. Because he ignored the obvious, that dynamic has begun moving and taking jobs with it, to the hinterlands as well. And why should another working region supported by a good farm economy suffer because of Jackson's lack of vision. 

If transportation was really Jackson's focus, why did he not pursue high speed rail, which is far less invasive, cleaner, and would also produce jobs?

It is a given that airports are economic growth magnets, but only if they are successful. Mid-America Airport is another Illinois airport in the cornfields studied by the same IDOT consultants that wrote reports on Peotone. But they built it and nobody came. Billed as a reliever to St. Louis' Lambert Field, Mid-America has become nothing more than a burden on the local taxpayers who are now stuck with it. And, it has been virtually a ghost town for a decade. The same thing could happen at Peotone. 

If lack of airport capacity is the problem, why isn't the Gary/Chicago International Airport being utilized? It already exists and is easily accessed from the south suburbs and downtown Chicago. It takes about 20 minutes from Homewood. If new airport capacity were a problem, Gary should be booming. If airports solved economic problems as Jackson claims, why hasn't Maywood, in close proximity to O'Hare been its beneficiary? The studies that have concluded that a new airport is needed have been done since 1985 by one chosen consultant, directed by the IDOT, which has a reputation similar to past Illinois governors who appointed them. The previous governor is under federal probe and his predecessor is serving time in the federal pententiary. 

There has never been a proven need for a Peotone airport. The project has never had enough merit to stand on its own without being propped up by millions of tax-supported public relations schemes. Did you ask Jackson about that? 

Numerous public officials have signed resolutions opposing the project. Thousands of residents have battled the proposal since 1988 through organized opposition. Political surveys have indicated a majority of the people of Will County are opposed. Jackson has enraged Will County officials who are now trying to garner support in the Illinois General Assembly to establish an airport authority of their own, just to counter Jackson's efforts. 

There have been so many victims of this ill-fated scheme. Whole communities have been adversely affected. People have lived in limbo since this airport was proposed. Some – proud men — have died thinking they failed their families because they could no longer protect them. Stress and illness has taken its toll. And they deserve better, even from an op-ed writer in the New York Times who has written two columns in the past four days, apparently using only one sources. And that source is questionable. You might start with your paper's own archives. I was quoted by your paper 18 years ago when a NY Times reporter came to Peotone to write a balanced piece. If you would like more information about the local point of view, check my blog at chblog.ozarkattitude.com  Most of content has been published. Or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at the above email address.

Carol Henrichs

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