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IDOT in court over condemnation of land for south suburban airport

Members Shut This Airport Nightmare Down(STAND) from left Mark Baugh Anthony RaysJudy Ogallspeak outside Will County Court Annex  Joliet

Members of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down(STAND), from left, Mark Baugh, Anthony Rayson and Judy Ogalla, speak outside the Will County Court Annex in Joliet, IL on Tuesday February 26, 2013. There was a hearing in an eminent domain case filed by IDOT against some land owners, as an attempt by the state to acquire land for the third airport.. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:20AM



State transportation officials say they are confident that the proposed south suburban airport in Peotone eventually will be built, but attorneys for one family that owns land in the footprint of the airport aren’t so sure.

The Barbour family owns three parcels that the Illinois Department of Transportation offered to take off their hands for $3.9 million.

But the family has refused the offer, and hope a Will County judge will dismiss the condemnation cases subsequently filed by the state, which involve 300 acres near the intersection of Will Center Road and Eagle Lake Road in Will Township.

“The basis of our motion is it’s premature for IDOT to be condemning land before they have final FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval,” said William Ryan, an attorney representing the Barbours.

Susan Shea, IDOT’s director of aeronautics, spent much of the Tuesday morning testifying before Judge Susan O’Leary about the department’s planning procedures.

The state has acquired close to 45 percent of the land covering the airport’s inaugural footprint, and spent almost $38 million to buy 2,667 acres from willing sellers for the project. IDOT officials say they need 5,800 acres for an inaugural airport footprint.

In court Tuesday, Ryan said the Barbours aren’t asking that the airport never be built, but believe the state is prematurely acquiring land without full FAA approval.

Shea testified that the state has made multiple attempts to purchase property in the inaugural footprint, and has exhausted all of the willing sellers.

“It’s important that we go to condemnation because we know it’s not a matter of if, it’s when” the airport is built, Shea said on the witness stand. “It’s the right time.”

Under cross-examination, Shea admitted that letters from the FAA regarding the project have stated that the state proceeds with land acquisition “at its own risk,” and that the final airport layout plan has not been approved. If built, the airport would be 35 miles south of the Chicago Loop, and surrounded by Beecher, Crete, Monee, Peotone and University Park.

Shea said the state assumes it will own and operate the aiport, but also admitted under cross-examination that there are many owner/operator scenarios — including Will County ownership or operation — that could become reality.

Tuesday afternoon, Jim Ofcarcik, manager of fiscal analysis for IDOT’s budget office, testified that the state has appropriated funding for land acquisition for the South Suburban Airport every year for the last 13 years.

As of Monday, the state had about $26 million appropriated for land acquisition, he said. Under cross-examination, he said the state in 2011 reduced its appropriation for the airport land acquisition by about $70 million. The department has asked for the funds to be re-appropriated, but that has not happened, he said.

The parties are scheduled to make their final arguments on the motion Wednesday morning.

Several members of STAND — Shut This Airport Nightmare Down — attended the hearing. Judy Ogalla, who is also a Will County Board member, said the Barbours’ case was the first of several condemnation lawsuits filed by the state to get to this legal stage.

The need for a third Chicago-area airport has been debated for years. And in recent years, Will County officials have vied for control of the airport with former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned from office in November. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to federal charges of misusing campaign funds.

The state has not approved any plan regarding airport governance.



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