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Rep. Jackson Plans Groundbreaking Ceremony For Peotone Airport

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Jesse Jackson Jr. celebrates his victory over Debbie Halvorson on Tuesday. (CBS)

Jesse Jackson Jr. celebrates his victory over Debbie Halvorson on Tuesday. (CBS)

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PEOTONE, Ill. (CBS) — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is making good on his election night promise to push for the start of construction on a third Chicago area airport in Peotone.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, Jackson says “the time for talk is over,” and he says he will lead a groundbreaking ceremony at the site near Peotone in a month.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

But Jackson will have an uphill battle.

Will County administrators, who believe they should control any airport built at the site, are saying Jackson’s plans are flawed. They say his airport commission doesn’t own the land or have the legal authority to start work at the site.

During his Tuesday night victory speech, Jackson said he was letting Gov. Pat Quinn know a “people’s groundbreaking” would be held at the site April 21 to get construction started.

“We are going to move earth, move dirt and begin the process of getting this airport built,” he said.

The congressman clarified Thursday that the groundbreaking would be ceremonial as he has yet to win a deal with Quinn to lease the land.

The project has been beset over the years by arguments over where to build the airport, opposition from major airlines and – most recently – a battle over who would control it. Jackson’s Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, a grouping of 21 municipal governments in the Chicago area, is seeking the go-ahead from Quinn and says it has lined up $700 million in private funds and two developers.

Officials in Will County also want control and have been pressuring Quinn to stop talks with Jackson’s commission. Instead, they want the state legislature to create a governing airport authority led by the county that would have clear powers to develop, finance and operate the airport.

The county board has accused Jackson’s commission of violating Illinois’ procurement law in choosing developers SNC-Lavalin of Canada and LCOR.

“Congressman Jackson seems to build some kind of fantasy world and now he thinks he’s going to go sprinkle some dirt around like magic dust and it becomes a reality,” Will County Board Chairman Jim Moustis said. “ALNAC has no authority to do anything. So the airport is not congressman Jackson’s.”

The governor’s office said Thursday it was trying to forge a compromise.

“Our goal is to get it done as quickly as possible, and we’re working hard to resolve outstanding issues with everyone at the table,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

Meanwhile, another airport that has sought to serve as the third major local hub is pushing ahead with plans for its $163 million expansion.

The Northwest Indiana Times reports the Gary/Chicago International Airport is close to signing an agreement with the Canadian National Railway to reroute its tracks for the airport expansion.

The tracks now sit on a high embankment just 130 feet from the main runway at the airport, and the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered that safety areas around the runway be expanded, the Times reported.

Currently, the only commercial airline that flies out of the Gary Airport is Allegiant Air, which offers two flights a week from Orlando Sanford International Airport. From 2008 until just last month, the airport had only been used for charter flights.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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