MONEE, Ill. (AP) –U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. presided over a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for a third Chicago-area airport that he wants to see built in the southern suburbs, touting the project as a path toward thousands of badly needed jobs. Protesters gathered nearby to oppose the plan, which they said threatened livelihoods of the area’s farmers.
Wearing a hardhat and standing on the back of a flatbed truck, Jackson said the project would lift the economy of Chicago’s struggling southern suburbs. He was accompanied by several pastors who delivered a blessing of the farmland in the footprint of the proposed airport.
“We have found … developers who are willing to put up $700 million of their own dollars and backed by a guarantee from the government of Canada,” Jackson said in remarks broadcast by WBBM Radio. “And they want to be on this land by June 1 of this year. … Together, we can and we will build our future.”
He was cheered by supporters, some of them holding shovels above their heads.
Hundreds of protesters, including farmers standing beside tractors and combines, assembled about a mile down the road near the village of Peotone. They argue that the project is unnecessary and will threaten their way of life on family farms that have operated for generations. Police kept the two groups separated.
Jackson, who has pushed for the airport for years, also faces opposition from Will County officials who want to see the one-terminal, one-runway airport built, but contend that the congressman’s plans are flawed. They argue the project should instead be placed in the hands of a governing airport authority that would be led by the county and approved by the state legislature.
Gov. Pat Quinn has tried to forge a compromise while seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval and buying land. Jackson has pressed Quinn to give his Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, a grouping of 21 municipal governments in the Chicago area, the go-ahead to start construction.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the major airlines that operate out of O’Hare International have spoken out against a third airport.
On Thursday, United Continental Holdings Inc. CEO and Chairman Jeff Smisek spoke to an audience at the civic organization City Club of Chicago, saying “there’s no demand” for a third airport.
He said it would strike a blow to O’Hare, which is undergoing a massive expansion and modernization project.
Jackson has said the airport would be built at no cost to taxpayers or airlines and would decrease fares by increasing competition.