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Cash-Strapped Ill. Government Moving Ahead With Peotone Land Buys

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Peotone (CBS)

Peotone (CBS)

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PEOTONE, Ill. (CBS) – Illinois may be facing a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, but that is not stopping plans to spend tens of millions on a proposed third Chicago airport.

Gov. Pat Quinn this week affirmed plans to borrow $110 million to advance the construction of the airport in south suburban Peotone.

“We want to build an airport in Peotone — as fast as humanly possible,” Quinn said.

To do that, he wants to borrow $110 million. The money would be used to buy another 2,500 acres of farmland at what Quinn says are bargain-basement prices in the current economy.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime and we are not going to pass it up,” Quinn said.

But will Peotone turn into a white elephant? That’s the view of the Air Transport Association, a trade group.

“None of our members have currently committed to serving a proposed airport in Peotone,” it says.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Airport opponent George Ochsenfeld has taken note of that.

“The aviation industry doesn’t think it’s a great idea. The airline industry sued Chicago to try and prevent expansion there. They said there’s plenty of capacity,” he says.

Ochsenfeld spoke out along rural Eagle Ridge Road, where the main runway is planned. He heads a group called Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, or STAND.

“This is wrong time, the wrong place to even think about project,” he said. “Right now, the state of Illinois is slashing funding for mentally disabled people and other vulnerable people and they want to spend $100 million to build an unneeded airport.”        

Will County Executive Larry Walsh thinks it is needed and predicts the federal government will ride to the financial rescue of the project.

When pressed about whether that’s assured, he replied: “I can’t guarantee anything. I can’t guarantee I’m going to be here tomorrow.”

Walsh was also asked if this is the right time to borrow that kind of money.

“If you look at the glass as half empty, then it’s never the time,” he said.

Critics worry that the Illinois glass is not even half empty — that it is, in fact, empty.

Contributing: CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall

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