The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority on Monday authorized the hiring of a second legal team to get railroads out of the way of the $166 million airport expansion.
On a 5-0 vote, the authority authorized Airport Interim Director B.R. Lane to hire the Hardwick Law Firm, of Chicago, to develop a strategy to get railroads off the dime on two final agreements.
"I do not anticipate this expanding the scope of our legal services," Lane said. "I do feel it will help us stop spinning our wheels."
Four years ago, the previous airport authority hired the Washington, D.C., law firm of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP to negotiate agreements needed to move three sets of tracks owned by three different railroads out of the way of the runway expansion.
As of August 2012, the airport authority had paid $722,875 to Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell and the fees were still mounting, according to an airport request for more federal funding submitted at that time.
In May, lawyers from Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell reported to the authority that no timeline could be given for concluding the two final agreements needed. Those are the concluding of utility easements under railroad rights-of-way and complex agreements between two railroads for trackage rights.
Lane said Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell will continue to work within the "four corners" of a memorandum of understanding it forged between the airport and all three railroads more than two years ago. The Hardwick Law Firm will develop strategies for reaching the final two agreements needed.
Negotiations on those two agreements have not involved the airport directly, as the easements are being negotiated strictly between utility companies and railroads and the trackage rights are strictly an issue between Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads.
But until those agreements are reached, a more than $30 million rail relocation project already completed and paid for by the airport authority cannot be used and the runway expansion cannot be completed.
The airport authority at its regular meeting Monday at the airport administration building did not get its first look at a public-private partnership agreement for the airport as expected. The committee negotiating the deal had hoped to have agreements with Aviation Facilities Company Inc. (AFCO) finalized for authority members to begin considering.
Airport officials did not specify why they were not able to deliver the agreements, but in a prepared statement Lane stated: "Both sides in the negotiations continue to work diligently to produce an agreement that is mutually beneficial."
Four weeks ago, the public-private partnership committee chose to negotiate exclusively with AFCO, dropping a bid by the locally-based GCIA Group for the same jobs.