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.