SOUTH HOLLAND | After years of discussion, land purchases by the state and plans that seem to go nowhere, supporters of a new Chicago-area airport in rural Will County are now laying the blame for a lack of progress on the project at the feet of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
The Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission met Monday, and several of its members were joined by African-American pastors and activists from the south suburbs in placing blame on the governor.
Commission Chairman Al McCowan, a former village president of University Park, said while Quinn talks of supporting airport construction at a site between Monee, Beecher and Peotone, the governor has done little to advance the project.
Though McCowan and Quinn last spoke on the issue about six months ago, and Quinn’s staff keeps in regular contact with the airport backers, he feels the Governor should be doing more.
“There has been lots of contact with the staff,” McCowan said. “But the governor’s office ought to be trying to move the process forward, and they’re not.
“It’s like we have to pressure the governor to move this entire project toward a groundbreaking,” McCowan said.
Part of the problem in developing a new Chicago area airport at the site is a dispute between Will and Cook county officials over control of the facility once it is built.
McCowan said Quinn could be influential in bringing Will and suburban Cook County officials together on the issue.
John Ostenburg, a former Park Forest village president who serves as the commission’s vice chairman, said a recent meeting took place between the commission and officials in Beecher, Crete, Monee and Peotone in hopes of getting them to lobby Will County officials.
“It’s the governor who ought to be doing this,” Ostenburg said.
Speaking more harshly were several area pastors and activists, many of whom said they would refuse to support a Quinn re-election bid in 2014 if work on the new airport has not begun by then.
“It’s been 20 years and no airport yet,” said David Lowery, head of the south suburban branch of the NAACP. “The only way things will change is if we change the leadership for not going along with an airport.”
Al Penn, head of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport support group, was of a similar mindset.
“I think the way, by and large, to get his attention is to refuse to open our doors and open our bank accounts that would fund his (re-election) campaign," he said.
South Holland Village President Don De Graff said under Quinn, the Illinois Department of Transportation has continued to purchase land for the airport. Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Monday that the state now owns 76 of the 148 parcels of land that would be needed.*
But even De Graff, a member of the commission, expressed disappointment in the level of assistance from Springfield.
“Gov. Quinn has let us down," he said. "He states his support, but does not come through in a timely manner.”
Anderson insisted that was wrong.
“It is absolutely not true to say that,” she said of the complaints. “The governor appreciates how much of an economic engine a new airport would be, and he is looking for every way to get this done as soon as possible.”
* Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version. The state has purchased 76 of the 148 parcels needed to build an airport in Will County.