Wake up, Illinois! Ag, the State, and Peotone Airport

Foreword: this post is half-rant and may have some inaccuracies. Please let me know of any and I will do my best to research and correct the information.

I’m on my spring break right now. I’m sitting in Kansas City, enjoying the sights and sounds of a fairly large city. The town I grew up in is nothing like Kansas City, though. The town I grew up in, Momence, Illinois, has a population somewhere between three and four thousand. The high school graduating classes are right around 100, and that’s including kids that are bused in from outlying neighborhoods and villages. In warm spring and summer, the town is framed by a lush carpet of pastures, and fields. Corn, soybeans, wheat. On a warm summer day, when the wind blows just right, you can smell the herb fields west of town where basil and oregano help stimulate the local economy. The Kankakee River, which runs right through historic downtown Momence, has a great reputation for big pike and large populations of bluegill.

We all know each other. We all take care of each other. It’s a pretty magical place to have grown up. While my mailing address is no longer in Momence, it’s still in a way home. The memories, the people, the places…they’re all near and dear to my heart. Nowadays, though, the State of Illinois isn’t helping rural community.

Actually, the State of Illinois is doing more harm than good these days. Agricultural education and extension programs are barely hanging on by a thread, even though it’s the very industry that keeps the state afloat. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois is among the top five producers of corn and soy beans in the U.S. — that is no small feat. Illinois is also a top producer of hogs and is home to countless specialty crops, including horseradish, herbs, cut flowers, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and many more.

Approximately 80% of Illinois landmass is devoted to agriculture. That’s 28 million acres, making up 76,000 different agricultural operations. With those sort of stats, it’s easy to see that agriculture is what keeps this state ticking.

Yet, aside from removing virtually any budget for agricultural education in public schools and causing detrimental reorganization to vital rural development and youth programs run through extension (4-H, agronomical services, nutritional advice, other educational resources), Illinois is moving toward more dangerous territory. Because of high operating taxes and an overall unwelcoming atmosphere, many commodity traders are migrating away from the physical Board of Trade in Chicago and favoring a more cost-effective digital platform that allows them to trade from anywhere. While this opens up doors for many valuable traders, the city and state’s lack of regard for agriculture has not only decreased the presence of a major agricultural trading point but is also slowly killing an icon of economic stability and progress in the midwest.

They want to build a third Chicagoland airport.

The airport in question would occur in Peotone, Illinois and would remove 38 square miles of agricultural land and rural hamlets. It would influence the income of individuals all over northeastern Illinois. Airports also come with a risk of furthering urband sprawl, meaning that those 38 miles would only be the start of the new sprawl source.

Some would argue that the new airport would increase commerce in the region. However, most major airlines have already announced that they would not run flights to and from this third airport; as it is, it seems that the two large ones that Chicagoland already boasts are hard enough to manage. (Consider this also: if the airlines will not service this airport, the restaurants, stores, hotels, and other hospitality companies that follow the airlines will not settle into this area either.)

The counties that this airport will reside in, Will and Cook Counties, will also have to pay the price for this. Increased taxes will provide a large portion of the funding to build this unnecessary travel hub. Thousands of people will be displaced from their homes and many more will lose agricultural income (some farmers losing their entire properties) because of this liberal application of eminent domain. The simple fact is this: would the economic return of an airport that no airlines want to fly to, be worth the massive tax hikes and the loss of guaranteed-profitable agricultural land? And on a more emotionally-grounded note, is it worth it to displace families who have been living, buying, selling, working, and farming in this region for generations, all at the gamble of building an airport with a remote possibility of boosting the economy?

Why gamble when agriculture is already a sure thing in this region? Why kill the way of life for this beautiful rural region, when its people are already contributing so much to society? 

If you want to learn more about the Peotone Airport Project and its negative impacts on Illinois, please check out STAND: Shut This Airport Nightmare Down.


10 thoughts on “Wake up, Illinois! Ag, the State, and Peotone Airport

    • Thank you Brian. It’s frustrating to the see the state that I grew up in fall into such a sad condition. It’s unfortunate that so many decision-makers in the government are completely oblivious to the value of Illinois ag. They forget entirely what their #1 industry is.

      Thanks, Brian, for reading and responding.

  1. I haven’t lived in the Will county area for eight years; I find it amazing that this fight is still going on. All other things aside, it’s truly a worthless airport.

    • Jesse Jackson Jr. is looking to break ground on Peotone in April. As in, next month. So, the spark has kind of rekindled and many folks are trying to make a last-ditch effort to avoid it.

      If this goes through, ag in our area will be killed. Absolutely killed. And the economy won’t be helped by it at all.

      Thanks for reading and responding, Jim.

  2. As the former executive director and co-founder of RURAL, Residents United to Retain Agricultural Land, the forerunner of STAND, I have studied this proposal for more than 20 years. I no longer live in Illinois but I too have left roots tender in the ground that surrounds the airport site.

    For many years I was a local reporter in Peotone and have written more airport stories than I can count. I am still writing them on my blog at http://chblog.ozarkattitude.com. Feel free to visit.

    Kelly, your half-rant is one that needs to be asserted, not just locally, but nationally, which is why I too still continue to write about it. Thank you for this on behalf of all of us who still care about Illinois’ agricultural heritage.

    • Carol, thank you so much for reading and responding; I’m honored that you would take the time to address this post and share your thoughts. I wish the rural communities around the proposed airport location would unite and band together to raise more awareness for what a problem this really is. If everyone were willing to speak out about their views, maybe the state would be more receptive.

      At the moment, though, Jackson is stating they’ll break ground in April. The land doesn’t even belong to the state yet, there’s no funding and virtually no airlines have agreed to service the area. How is this even possible or logical?

      • It isn’t logical. In my experience, nothing about this airport project has been logical. That is largely why I continue to write about it. I first started writing about it as a correspondent for the Kankakee Journal. I was baffled by what I learned then and continue to be. Greed and the accompanying thirst for power, is the only reason state officials continue to beat this dead horse.

        Thank you are writing about this from an ag perspective. The local farm bureaus are opposed, but are not active. The state farm bureau has adopted an opposition policy, but again, not actively. I cannot understand that since so much precious farmland has been lost to development. I feel that should be of the highest priority in the farm community.

        Keep doing what you are doing. Consider subscribing to my blog. I stay up on what is happening there as much as I can from 500 miles away. I remain friends with STAND members and long time friends there.

        I just wrote about my views of Jackson and his groundbreaking in my blog at the above link. Feel free to comment.

        BTW I loved Momence. One of my favorite places to go was Island Park, to watch the ducks. I loved the State Line Rd. bridge and the wetlands there where the herons would forage for fish on a lazy afternoon.

    • Thank you for sharing, Ryan. It’s much appreciated. I just hope it isn’t too late to get even more of the Illinois rural community up and at arms about this.

      My signature is going on it, and you can bet I”ll be sharing it. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: Jackson deluded himself on airport, says longtime foe | Chicago Renaissance

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