IDOT to seize land for airport

IDOT to seize land for airport
March 8, 2008 8:55:46 AM PST
The Illinois Department of Transportation on Monday will begin condemning land for the proposed south suburban airport - and is going to need more land than originally planned.Susan Shea, IDOT's aeronautics director, said Friday she's ready to file the first of what should be many lawsuits in Will County Circuit Court to obtain about 3,200 acres still needed for the project. That's about 1,200 more acres than IDOT previously said it needed to obtain.

"I've got to show people I'm serious about this," Shea said. "People think I am kidding."

IDOT this week submitted the beginnings of a master plan calling for a 5,225-acre airport. For the past decade, IDOT projected about 4,000 acres were needed.

Shea said IDOT next week will attempt a maneuver known as a "friendly" condemnation of land on the eastern edge of the airport's footprint near Peotone. The land was purchased through a sale of tax-delinquent property, and there are several ownership claims on the title, she said. With the consent of the owners, a judge will vacate the title and determine the price for the state to acquire the property.

Shea said the transaction will establish in court what IDOT will pay in future condemnation proceedings.

"It will set a base price," she said. "It is the logical next step."

Since 2001, IDOT has spent $24 million to acquire 1,940 acres for a "starter" airport consisting of a 10,000-foot runway, a control tower and a terminal.

Shea said the judge's ruling will pave the way for IDOT to forcibly obtain the rest of the airport footprint through condemnation.

She expects IDOT to move from east to west in the coming months, asking for a judge to approve its acquisition of the remaining acreage.

Shea said IDOT will submit a series of documents over the next two years to give the Federal Aviation Administration a complete master plan to consider for approval.

The proposed layout submitted to the FAA shows an area bordered by Eagle Lake Road, Western Avenue, Church Road and Central Avenue as the preferred location for the runway. She said the runway is in a "green-friendly" spot that will have little impact on nearby residents.

"I won't be rattling the dishes in any dining room cabinets," Shea said. "The Lord was looking out for me when he designed this land."

The plans submitted to the FAA also include an ultimate layout plan of six runways, with an extension of Metra's Electric Line to the airport and a direct access road from Interstate 57. Shea called that plan "my dream."

George Ochsenfeld, who heads a group of residents opposed to the airport, dismissed Shea's comments as grandstanding by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to show he's getting serious about a project decades in the making. He said the state doesn't have the money for Shea to make good on her promises.

"It's irrelevant," Ochsenfeld said. "If Blagojevich said pigs could fly, she would say IDOT is building the first swine-based airport."

--The Southtown Star


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