EDITORIAL: Airport board must be well-grounded

2013-07-07T13:01:00Z EDITORIAL: Airport board must be well-grounded nwitimes.com
July 07, 2013 1:01 pm  • 

Gary/Chicago International Airport's new board of directors will have a big mess to clean up, and not just the contaminated soil at the airport.

Airport officials announced Tuesday the pollution cleanup and additional railroad work will delay the completion of the $166 million runway expansion until September 2014, long past the Federal Aviation Administration deadline of Dec. 31, 2013.

The pollution cleanup required by environmental regulators is a large problem, larger than the current board realized. Not only is the pollution more extensive than earlier soil samples indicated, but the FAA doesn't want its employees exposed to dangerous chemicals. That toxic soil has to be removed, not left intact.

The cost of the soil cleanup is unknown.

The current Airport Authority has been plagued with cost over-runs and delays on this project. Negotiations with the Gary School Board for purchase of unused property for wetlands mitigation took far longer than expected, and negotiations with the railroads on relocating tracks at the end of the runway took even longer.

Under Senate Bill 585, the "Gary bill" signed into law this year, a new airport board is to be appointed soon after Aug. 31. The governor's appointee will be the chairman, and all board members will be required to have at least five years of professional work experience in at least one of the following areas: aviation management at an executive level, regional economic development, or business or finance.

The board also will be required to have a certified public accountant produce an annual financial audit, and the board will be required to submit an annual report as well.

As the delays and cost over-runs on this project have shown, it is important to keep tabs on what the airport board is doing.

At the same time the current board is working on the expansion project, it is considering major changes at the airport, everything from hiring a new director to privatizing airport operations.

The current board should take care of urgent business, but refrain from making major decisions that would tie the hands of the new board.

When the new board is in place, we hope it will do better than the current board at getting this expansion project completed and turning the airport into the major economic engine it could and should be.

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