Residents remember airport opposition

2013-11-23T20:00:00Z 2013-11-23T23:29:13Z Residents remember airport oppositionDavid P. Funk Times Correspondent
November 23, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The Hegewisch library branch stands about where the terminal would have been if the Lake Calumet Airport plan hadn't been defeated.

It was a fitting place for activists, historians and residents to gather to remember the project that failed 20 years ago.

"This is a story that has to be told," Ron Maydon said. "This is an uphill, Herculean, insurmountable fight that your neighbors got involved in."

Maydon was an East Side community activist in the 1990s. He was one of five speakers who shared memories of the work done to prevent the airport from eliminating much of Hegewisch, East Side, Burnham and Calumet City.

"There's no nice way to put it. This was a ruthless, cutthroat, back-stabbing war," Maydon said. "I am so proud of the average Joe citizens out here that supported our activities."

A study of a third airport at one of three suburban Illinois sites and the Gary Municipal Airport had been underway for several years when former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley insisted Lake Calumet be considered with the others.

The area was added to the study, and the committee picked Lake Calumet despite its estimated $20 billion cost and environmental questions. The project passed the Illinois House on the third try but was rejected by the Senate. When that happened, Daley declared the project "Dead, dead, dead."

The room at the library Saturday had the feeling of a family reunion and was filled with faded newspaper clippings, posters, pins, photos and shirts with slogans such as "no urban airport" and "dump Daley." Some even wore the old shirts, while others sold new replicas of the garments.

Rod Sellers, director of the Southeast Chicago Historical Society, and Cynthia Ogorek, historian and author, discussed efforts to build a third airport going back to the 1960s. Sellers said the failure of the Lake Calumet plan in the 1990s resulted in the expansion of O'Hare International Airport, the revival of Midway International Airport and the revitalization of the environmental movement in the area.

Judy Lihota helped facilitate that revival. Lihota is president of the Calumet Ecological Park Association, which was founded in the wake of the fight against the Lake Calumet Airport project.

CEPA has been a part of several successful campaigns since 1993, none of which would have been possible without the Lake Calumet Airport opposition, Lihota told those in attendance.

"We're still using those tactics," she said. "This is how CEPA was born."

Anthony Rayson, of Monee, represented Shut This Airport Nightmare Down — a group that opposes the building of a third airport in Peotone and the Illiana Expressway. Rayson said he saw parallels between his fight and the one in Hegewisch 20 years earlier.

"There's still no reason for this airport," he said. "That's the sad part."

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