South Suburban Airport: Development Bill Advances to Governor

Courtesy of Illinois Department of Transportation
Courtesy of Illinois Department of Transportation

By Nick Reiher

A bill aimed to measure the interest by developers in a long-discussed South Suburban Airport in the Monee area is heading to the governor’s desk.
State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, in February introduced an amendment to an existing airport development bill requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to, within six months of adopting the bill, establish a process for prequalification of parties interested in developing a cargo airport.
Davis’s House Bill 2531 noted such a development would include both multimodal modes of freight transportation and centers of employment in logistics and manufacturing businesses, according to the amendment in Davis’ House Bill 2531.
The House passed the bill several weeks ago, and the Senate recently passed it with bi-partisan support, according to a press release from the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus.
“This is a touchdown for communities across the South Suburbs,” said state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, who carried the bill in the Senate.
“This airport will serve as an economic engine for our communities and provide local businesses with access to global markets for generations to come.”
“We support this project to help create many exciting new opportunities for working families in the South Suburbs for generations to come,” said Illinois AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devaney, in the release.
“It will jump-start the process leading to the thousands of good-paying union construction jobs to build the airport, and create many long-term career opportunities in the direct airport operations and all of the businesses that will develop around it.”
The South Suburban Airport Act, which became law more than a decade ago, established that the state may develop a prequalification process, the release states. However, steps were not taken to begin to prequalification process. Senators from the South Suburban Corridor believe this initiative will jump-start the process.
“This new facility will help establish the Southland as an economic hub for generations to come,” said state Sen. Michael E. Hastings, D-Frankfort, in the release.
“For years, we have heard promises of this vital resource. I am proud to help bring it to fruition.”
The measure also adds domestic and global freight cargo transfer development to the stated goals for the airport.
“The airport holds the promise of bringing in countless opportunities for economic growth, job creation and increased revenue for our area,” said state Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, in the release. “It only makes sense we are finally moving forward with the project after 40 years in the making.”
In April 2017, Randy Blankenhorn, then Illinois Transportation Secretary, told a group of Will County business leaders six parties have shown interest in developing the long-discussed South Suburban Airport.
The state, which had purchased Bult Field at the center of the SSA the year before, wanted to see plans for a general aviation airport with a cargo component to handle the county’s growing logistics enterprises, comprising the largest inland port in North America.
What the state heard back was crickets. And the airport plan, discussed in various ways and with various sites for more than three decades, was dormant once more.
That meant Bult Field, purchased by the state for $34.5 million in 2016 was not developed, and much of the land in the immediate footprint of the proposed airport expansion, has been leased back to farmers and other owners since the state has continued to purchase property.
IDOT offers a link on the airport site, https://www.southsuburbanairport.com/SSA-home.htm, for those interested in renting land from them.
The airport website shows the state had paid more than $97 million to purchase around 4,500 acres of land in the project footprint, bordered by Monee, University Park and Crete on the north, and Peotone and Beecher on the south.
“With all the logistics in the area, a cargo airport makes a lot of sense,” said Davis when introducing the bill. His 30th House District lay some five miles north of the SSA’s footprint in the Peotone-Monee area.
But he added the state has held up the residents around the proposed area too long. And they deserve an answer one way or another if any private party is interested in developing a cargo airport.
If there is suitable interest, Davis and others said there would need to be infrastructure improvements leading to the airport. Already, the state has set aside funds for a new interchange on Interstate 57, initially at Eagle Lake Road, just north of the Peotone weigh stations.
He knows of at least one possibility. During a meeting of business leaders at Governors State University. Davis declined to share the name of the party, but believed they may have done some work in developing cargo plans at Rockford Airport. He said he isn’t aware of any business they have done in Will County.
In addition to buying Bult Field, the state bought its first parcel of land in the airport footprint in 2001. Since then, they have purchased much of the land in the footprint. They also have completed most of the studies required by the FAA.
Davis hopes the amendment, if approved, will result in feasible plans from credible parties. If not, he adds, “it will have to be some type of economic development.”
When hearing initially about Davis’ House bill, several Will County Board members were concerned the county was being left out of the process.
Board Chair Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, a longtime opponent of the airport development, told Farmers Weekly Review she will follow two courses of action in response to the passage of the bill.
“Through the county’s Legislative Committee, the county will work to change legislation adopted in 2015 so Will County gets a seat at the table.
“I’ll also seek grant funds for an alternative plan if like the previous two times when the state sent out such requests, they failed.
“The alternative plan would include selling homesteads back to private ownership, dedicating the treed acreage to the Will County Forest Preserve, selling the majority of state-owned farmland to farmers, but also plan for possible transfer of some farmland to local colleges/universities for teaching sustainable farming practices.
“I’d also like to see if there is an interest in a hemp processing or meat processing facility, because, as we learned during COVID, having a local sustainable food source and processing of these food products is important for our region.
“Will County will no longer be a silent voice and take a backseat.”

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