Kadner: Kelly calls for local input on airport
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2013 7:51AM
Updated: July 12, 2013 6:16AM
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) said Monday she wants the Legislature to pass a law giving local communities a “decision-making role” in the development of the South Suburban Airport.
Kelly said she has talked to several legislators from the Southland and asked them to present such a measure in the fall veto session of the General Assembly.
She also urged lawmakers to create a development district “to shape economic development around the airport and protect those communities’ interests.”
Mayors representing the so-called “iron ring” communities of Peotone, Crete, Beecher and Monee, which surround the airport site, have called for the creation of such a district. Among other things, it would give the towns power over zoning on land outside the airport footprint.
The Legislature recently passed a law giving the Illinois Department of Transportation the authority to form a private-public partnership for the purposes of building and governing the long-stalled airport.
Kelly, speaking at a Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce luncheon, said once the airport is completed it will “make the Southland an important center of the global economy.
“The runway should be long enough for passenger cargo plans to fly non-stop to China or anywhere in the world,” she said.
While heralding Gov. Pat Quinn for his leadership in getting the airport bill passed, Kelly said she still has “concerns” that must be “vigorously addressed.
“While the state bill authorizes the construction of an airport, there still needs to be local authority involved in its planning and development,” Kelly said. “Every airport in the state, except for one, is run by local authority. And so should ours.”
She promised to bring together community leaders from South Cook, Will and Kankakee counties “to create a local airport commission” that she envisions “working closely with IDOT to monitor development of the airport and have meaningful input as we develop this important economic engine.”
In a follow-up conversation with Kelly’s spokeswoman, I was told that the congresswoman did not mean to imply that the commission would have an advisory role. It should be a partner in the planning and development process with IDOT, and its role should be mandated by law, the spokeswoman said.
Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg, a founding member of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission formed by Kelly’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., said he was “delighted” to hear Kelly’s remarks.
Ostenburg, who attended the luncheon, said the role of local communities “needs to be codified into law.
“The way the legislation is written right now suggests that IDOT only has to meet with and solicit the input of local communities, but there’s nothing in the law that says the state needs to listen to what we have to say,” he said.
Kelly mentioned that in addition to the third airport, the state is moving forward with plans to build the Illiana Expressway, which will “help revive commercial and manufacturing redevelopment in our region.”
Kelly urged the state to ensure that “local companies, local minority businesses, local union labor and our residents are hired” to work on both the airport and expressway projects.
She called the 2nd Congressional District “America’s Crossroads,” noting that all six national railroads run through it.
“We also have some of the busiest highways in the country and an international seaport, the Port of Chicago,” Kelly said. “We need to enhance all of these so we can maintain and strengthen our standing as the Crossroads of America.”
She also mentioned the intermodal facilities in Harvey, Dolton and Crete but stressed that area residents need opportunities for middle-class jobs beyond cargo transfer stations and warehouses.
Kelly also said there are plans to build a U.S. Customs Service Central Examination Station in Harvey, where international cargo would be inspected and that would serve Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. The only other such inspection site in the region is near O’Hare International Airport, she said.
The congresswoman said she’s also working with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to revitalize the Port of Chicago.
“A rehabilitated port could support 1,000 new full-time jobs and approximately 2,500 indirect jobs,” Kelly said. “Many would be good-paying jobs in manufacturing and wholesale trade.”
She said she’s also developing a 2nd Congressional District council to “strengthen our capacity to create a network of technology, entrepreneurship and social innovation programs.”
At the end of the lunch, a member of the audience, who identified himself as a “former policeman,” asked Kelly why she is so anti-gun rights.
She denied that label but said she supports a federal law requiring a background check for anyone buying a gun, a requirement that she said 90 percent of Americans support.
In an anecdote, Kelly recalled how her grandfather, who owned a grocery store in the Harlem area of New York City, was a hunter and once needed his rifle to ward off a robber.
“He shot the man,” Kelly said.
She said she understood the need for self-defense and respected law enforcement but believed more regulation is warranted.
The crowd enthusiastically applauded Kelly’s statements on gun control.