McDermott says Gary bill means loss of local control of Gary airport

2013-01-30T16:50:00Z 2013-01-31T12:17:03Z McDermott says Gary bill means loss of local control of Gary airportChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. contends the push for a land-based casino in Gary will carry the consequence of losing local control over the airport board.

McDermott, who has been a vocal opponent of a land-based casino in Gary, spoke about legislation at a city event Tuesday that addresses the casino and changes to the makeup of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority. The bill also requires studies on the feasibility of a second port on Lake Michigan and the need for a Level 1 trauma center in Northwest Indiana.

Currently, the Gary mayor appoints four of the seven members on the airport board but would lose the majority under the bill.

“I think Gary is making a major mistake if they give away the Gary airport,” McDermott said. “I think they are making a mistake they are going to regret for years and years and years because if Indianapolis gets a hold of that thing, they're not even going to listen to them anymore in Gary.”

Yet, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Wednesday each of the issues in the bill stand on their own merit, and she expects changes to the bill.

“That's why we are comfortable to say we support the clear economic development aspects of the bill, but we reject the change in the airport board,” Freeman-Wilson said. “I don't think it's either or. I don't think we have to trade one for the other. We can look at all aspects of the bill and work with it.”

The bill expands the board's membership to 11 with four appointments from the Gary mayor, one appointment from Lake County, one appointment from Porter County and five appointments from the governor.

One of the governor's appointments would serve as chair of the board. The bill requires decisions on matters such as contracts, loans and property acquisition to have the chair's support to pass.

McDermott said an aspect of the bill he would support is a trauma center, but not if it's included in the same legislation as a land-based casino.

“We can support that. We have needs for a trauma center in Gary,” McDermott said. “So why do they loop the trauma center in Gary to a bill that we can't support?”

McDermott told residents gathered at Eggers Middle School for a Mayor's Night Out event that a land-based casino would come out of their back pockets.

Freeman-Wilson said Gary is simply wishing to locate a casino off a well-traveled highway similar to what Hammond has done with its casino.

“I don't think it would hurt Hammond,” Freeman-Wilson said. “Just as they've been able to spur ancillary development with Walmart and other development that's what we are trying to do."

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