Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Congresswoman: Building Peotone airport a reality
By Lee Provost
The Ottawa (IL) Times
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly
You might have heard this one before.
Believe it or not, the South Suburban Airport may be closer to becoming a reality that anyone thought.
At least according to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who's congressional district includes the proposed site as well as the Kankakee area.
At a recent event at the former Bult Field near Peotone, the Democrat from Matteson told the gathering of 125 area elected officials that the project could soon be taking flight as a private development option has emerged.
According to Kelly's office, the Illinois Department of Transportation has issued a Request for Information, the first step toward identifying private developers to finance, construct, operate and maintain the facility.
"This is a historic and monumental day for the Southland and Illinois. Many thought this day would never come, but we remained committed," according to a Thursday press release issued by Kelly. "New airports don't come easy."
Kelly said the last non-replacement U.S. airport built was the Dallas-Fort Worth facility, which broke ground in 1969.
Discussion of the airport has been taking place for 50 years.
So what brought about this latest announcement? Kelly spokesman James Lewis said there are "definitely people interested — multiple people — in developing this project."
Lewis said Kelly certainly understands people are skeptical due to the longevity of these discussions.
"We are seeing auxiliary developments that you would expect to see around [an airport]," he said. "There is certainly more focus on the southern side of Chicago. That's what is making this a reality."
One of the airport critics is George Ochsenfeld, president of the anti-airport group, S.T.A.N.D. [Shut This Airport Nightmare Down]. He believes IDOT is searching for a developer rather than a developer seeking the information.
"The real question is: Will they find a real private developer if they give away enough? How much land, how many tax breaks will it take?" Ochsenfeld said. "They don't know if there is interest, that's why they're doing this.
"IDOT is obsessed with this. That's what keeps this going," he said.
IDOT spokesman Gianna Urgo wrote in an email response that the request will determine if there truly is private sector interest.
"As always, our top priority is to improve transportation, grow the economy and enhance quality of life for the region's residents and businesses," she wrote.
While the third Chicagoland airport has been pushed by developers and several state and national politicians, it has been fought by eastern Will County communities and most local elected officials there.
In 2014, the state purchased Bult Field airport site outside of Peotone for $34.5 million. Bult would be the center point for South Suburban. The state owns 4,464 acres at the cost of $95.6 million.
When Gov. Bruce Rauner took office two years ago, he suspended additional land purchases earmarked for the airport.
Kelly also noted the significant development taking place in this region. Projects of note include the 850,000-square-foot Amazon distribution center, the proposed 500-acre CSX Intermodal at Crete and the proposed $8 billion Great Lakes Basin Railroad and 15,000-acre railyard near Manteno.
Kelly said the airport would be a key ingredient toward helping Illinois succeed in the global economy.
"While we still have much work to do, this is another step toward making this airport a reality," Kelly said.
"In addition to all of this — or, maybe because of all this — there are big plans for expanding infrastructure with new railroads, new highways, and of course a new airport," Kelly said in the March 9 edition of Farmers Weekly Review.