Symbolic ground breaking for third Chicago airport

April 21, 2012 8:48:45 PM PDT
Nothing firm has been approved in the plans for a third airport in far south suburban Peotone, but that did not stop Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. from taking shovel in hand Saturday for what was billed as an unofficial and symbolic ground breaking.

The project has the support of Governor Quinn who's been working to buy the land and gain approval from the FAA. But there continue to be questions about how airport construction would be funded.

The symbolic ground breaking took place at the site of the proposed airport.

"Together we can and we will strengthen our common economic destiny," Jackson said.

Jackson was joined by supporters, who say a third airport could bring an economic windfall.

"It helps the people," said Peotone airport supporter Elease Jackson. "It's good for everyone. More jobs, jobs, jobs."

"This project is bigger than just the start of a 12,000-foot runway and a five-gate terminal. This project has the capacity to transform the south land and give balanced economic growth to Chicago to this region, for which we have for too long waited," Jackson said.

The event drew protestors as well, many of whom are local farmers whose livelihoods would be affected.

"To run the AG economy out of here for no reason just doesn't make sense," said farmer Robert Ogalla.

The gathering comes two days after United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek said there was no demand for a third Chicago-area airport and that any such project would hurt growth at O'Hare.

"He's right about Peotone," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said earlier this week. "There have been negotiations in the process about making sure O'Hare is modernized, and I'm committed to that."

Jackson says United is simply trying to push out competing airlines that would benefit from a third airport.

The project, he says, would be privately-funded by Canadian developer SNC-Lavalin, which has come under fire after a consultant allegedly tried to smuggle Moammar Gadhafi's son into Mexico.

Will County officials also dispute Jackson's claim that the $700 million needed for the project would be backed by the Canadian government.

"We've been in contact with officials in the government of Canada, and they disclosed to us that there is no guarantee by the government of Canada," said Will County board member Cory Singer.

Saturday, Jackson said the private money would come from multiple sources.

"I'm confident that the funding for this project is very secure," he said. "Any one of these entities could build this airport all by themselves."

Will County officials say they're not opposed to a third airport, just the way Congressman Jackson is going about it. They want local control of the project.

Jackson has appointed his own oversight board.