May 13, 2001 Chicago Tribune
Airport foes' grass-roots grow
Peotone group raises money, voices, solutions

Tribune staff reporter
May 13, 2001

Irene Taranda, like hundreds of other Peotone-area residents who attended a rally Saturday against a proposed third airport, said she opposes the state's plan to cover 24,000 acres of farmland with concrete because it is an example of the worst kind of urban sprawl.

Taranda said she moved away from relatively urban Oak Lawn 27 years ago to find a quiet, rural life. Now she fears her 5 acres may soon border an airport.

Her expansive view of farm fields would be replaced by additional road and air traffic, and the peaceful sounds of nature would be punctuated by jets taking off at regular intervals.

"I don't see why the state doesn't put the airport somewhere else," she said. "We moved out here to live in the country."

Since the airport was first proposed about a decade ago, many residents of this Will County town have been vocal in their opposition. But community leaders say they are turning up the volume and becoming more aggressive. They propose alternatives to building a new airport, such as Illinois cooperating with other states to solve air-traffic concerns.

The airport plan would "gobble up priceless farmland, destroy the ecosystem and become one of the biggest engines of urban sprawl in the country," said George Ochsenfeld, president of STAND, or Shut This Airport Nightmare Down.

Gary Mayor Scott King and representatives from the Milwaukee and Rockford airports attended the rally, saying their fields could handle more traffic without the big price tag and disruption caused by building an airport in Peotone.

"Let's make smarter, better use of our resources," King said. He said the managers of the Gary, Milwaukee and Rockford airports can work together with O'Hare International and Midway Airports in Chicago to improve each airport.

Speakers also included a representative from the High Speed Rail Association.

Many signed petitions asking the Illinois General Assembly to withdraw funding for the airport. Organizers staged raffle sales to raise money for their campaign. A collection can circulating in the gym was characteristic of the kind of grass-roots efforts airport opponents have mounted.

People also distributed pamphlets with instructions for writing, calling and sending e-mail to local legislators.

Followed by a parade that featured balloons, children on bikes and farmers on tractors, the rally at Peotone High School attracted about 800 people, including residents of Chicago, Indiana and Wisconsin.

"I'd like this to be a celebration of our way of life rather than just a protest," said Peotone Mayor Dennis Baran.

Marcel Smaga, 62, a retired gas company employee who lives in Peotone, said, "The airport has been a thorn in our sides. I wish it would be dropped. Why is the state trying to build an airport here when there are other places like Gary that want it?"

[Chicago ATC News]