Residents STAND against airport plans — Chicago (IL) Daily Southtown, 1/16/05

By Lauren FitzPatrick

Picture it: A three-story brick home sits on 80 acres of arable land in Beecher, nestled among trees and small fishing lakes.

It is Jim Verduin's dream home where he is raising his four children. A former bricklayer by trade, the 52-year-old laid 32,500 bricks himself, with help from a family member, five years ago.

"It took me 30 years to be able to save and be able to do it," Verduin said. "There's fishing in the backyard, all kinds of wildlife.

"My kids mixed the mortar," he added.

But Verduin's dream may be threatened.

Some 50 remaining property owners in a 4,200-acre site near Peotone received letters in late November from the Illinois Department of Transportation explaining they had 60 days to negotiate a state buyout of their homes or face forced sale under eminent domain.

So despite the nip in the air Saturday, Verduin joined a few dozen people outside the building where the letters originated to protest the so-called third airport that planners would like to build near Peotone.

The group of Peotone-area residents known as Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, or STAND, gathered at the corner of U.S. 30 and Cicero Avenue in Matteson for a few hours Saturday afternoon, hoping to grab the governor's attention and halt any eminent domain proceedings. Many of them have refused to sell their homes.

"We are extremely disappointed with Gov. (Rod) Blagojevich for all the threats to use eminent domain for a project the (Federal Aviation Administration) has not approved," STAND president George Ochsenfeld said. "This is not a transportation issue — this is a development issue.

"It's all up in the air, and yet they're trying eminent domain," Ochsenfeld continued.

Neon-colored signs screamed out as loud as protesters' voices and the drums some of them beat: "Farms not fraud" and "No eminent domain".

But IDOT continues to support the project, which aims to operate seven daily flights in 2011. Leaders in Will County, as well as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-2nd) of Chicago are standing behind the airport, saying it will help boost the regional economy.

Jim Tobin, who heads National Taxpayers United of Illinois, also grabbed a bullhorn to protest what he believed would result in rising taxes for all Illinoisians.

"It is the worst example of state boondoggles in the state budget," Tobin said. "Threatening people's property with eminent domain to benefit real estate speculators is un-American."

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