Illinois Sen. Steps Into Peotone Airport Feud

Aug. 22--Barack Obama is going to give it a shot.

On Monday, Illinois' Democratic junior senator will begin mediating the long-simmering dispute between Will County officials and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) over who should control the proposed airport near Peotone.

Obama is scheduled to meet with Jackson, Will County Executive Larry Walsh and state Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete) at the University of Chicago to see if a compromise can be reached on the structure of a governing body to oversee the proposed airfield's development and operation.

Achieving a compromise won't be easy. Previous efforts by Illinois Transportation Secretary Tim Martin and Halvorson to have Jackson and Will County officials come to an agreement on airport governance not only failed but seemed to polarize the two sides further.

Unless an agreement is reached, however, the chances of getting the airport built anytime soon could be weakened, state officials have warned. And the charismatic Obama--who is close to Jackson, Walsh and Halvorson, the latter two having served with him in the General Assembly--may be the best bet to get it done.

He is expected to present a new proposal to end the stalemate.

"Maybe Barack can bring everybody together; I'm hopeful," Halvorson said, adding that the parties' first meeting in months is a positive.

"I believe the meeting will give us the opportunity to view and listen to each other's opinions," Halvorson said. "Then we can come back with some recommendations. We have to keep our eyes on the prize [the airport]."

Walsh and representatives of Jackson also expressed optimism a compromise could be reached with Obama's help.

Phone calls to the offices of Obama, who came out in support of Jackson's airport plan during the U.S. Senate race last year, were not returned.

Jackson and Will County officials have been at loggerheads for two years over control of the airport, construction of which has been debated for more than a decade and has yet to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Jackson has insisted that his Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, made up primarily of municipal representatives from south suburban Cook County, oversee private development of the airport.

Will County officials, who also favor private development, have insisted that because the airport would be located within the county, they should have the lead role in overseeing construction and operation.

One key bone of contention with Jackson is the inclusion on his commission of northwest suburban Elk Grove Village and Bensenville, which are financing Jackson's group in hopes of blocking the expansion of O'Hare International Airport. Will County officials say allowing those suburbs to have a voice in decisions affecting Will County is unacceptable.

Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed to this report.

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