State Journal-Register

March 6, 2001


Page: 10

Illinois officials declare progress for Peotone airport


WASHINGTON - More than two dozen suburban Chicago officials, business leaders and members of Congress declared progress had been made during meetings with the Bush administration Monday, even though they failed to win clear-cut support for a proposed airport in Peotone.

"We have gained tremendous momentum," said U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, who represents the Peotone area. "This White House has made it clear they're open-minded, whereas with the previous White House the door was closed. I think that's the big difference."

A small group met with White House chief of staff Andrew Card after a larger number met earlier in the day with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Weller said the group didn't expect any decisions Monday. But he noted it was the first meeting in a decade where administration officials sat down with advocates of a third Chicago-area airport.

Gov. George Ryan recently pledged to move forward with the purchase of land for the airport, which has been long stalled by the Clinton administration at the behest of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who fears it would hurt O'Hare and Midway airports.

One of the major points of this trip was showing the broad-based support for the Peotone proposal, said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.

In a meeting last week with Mineta, Ryan had asked for a speedier environmental review of the Peotone airport site. Airport advocates also want the project returned to the national airport planning list, making it eligible for federal funds. Mineta said he wanted to survey the Illinois delegation, which is not unified on the issue.

U.S. Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Wood Dale, and Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, also attended the meeting with White House officials Monday.

"In the last eight years, we've heard nothing," said Manny Hoffman, economic development chairman for the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce. "We've heard an administration that's given us no reason for hope. Now, we have an administration that says, "Hey, we'll sit down with you.'

"We feel it's exciting. We feel there's a whole new movement going on here in Washington."

The group was supposed to meet today with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, who has remained neutral on the issue, and U.S. Rep. William Lipinski, D-Chicago, an opponent of the project. But the meetings were canceled because they're traveling with President Bush to Chicago.

The group is scheduled to meet with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who wrote Mineta on Monday to support the request for speedier impact studies. However, Durbin stopped short of fully endorsing the proposed airport, saying he didn't have expertise or desire to pick a site.