GARY | Councilman Roy Pratt is vowing to fight what he calls the "state takeover" of Gary/Chicago International Airport by rallying the bi-state board that runs Gary, Midway and O'Hare airports.
"We spent years and years developing that airport," Pratt said Tuesday at a news conference at Gary City Council chambers. "It's about to become a major airport, and now they want to take it over."
In alleging a state move to take over Gary's airport, Pratt was referring to Senate Bill 585 as introduced by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. That bill has as its centerpiece the establishment of a land-based casino in Gary, but it also would expand the Gary Airport Authority board and make other changes.
The Gary airport is run by a seven-member authority, which has four of its members appointed by the mayor of Gary. Under Charbonneau's bill, the board would be expanded to 11 members, with just four appointed by the Gary mayor. Two others would be county appointments and five others would be appointed by the governor.
Just hours after Pratt spoke at City Hall on Tuesday, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson reaffirmed her support for the broad aims of Charbonneau's bill, calling it "a tremendous opportunity to build or create transportation assets" in the city of Gary.
However, she said that does not mean she agrees with everything contained in the bill.
"I'm not prepared to disclose what my vision of the airport board is," she said Tuesday. "But I will say it's not articulated in the current legislation (SB 585)."
The mayor said she consulted with legislators as the bill was drawn up but that she did not write it. She will continue to work with legislators as the bill evolves and changes, she said.
The bi-state airport compact was signed between the cities of Chicago and Gary in 1995, and provides for a bi-state board called the Chicago/Gary Regional Airport Authority. That authority provides Gary with a share of passenger facility charges collected at the Chicago airports.
Pratt said he was in office as that compact was drawn up and the Gary City Council voted to approve it.
Freeman-Wilson said in a statement issued last week that Charbonneau's bill is a "substantive opportunity" for advancing an academic medical center, a port, land-based gaming and the airport in Gary.
On Tuesday, she said any "narrowing of the bill" to focus only on specific issues may cause people to miss its significance for Gary.
"We all could get up in arms and say, 'Well, it's just a bill to take the airport away,' and that's not true," she said.