PEOTONE – Talks about the creation of a third regional airport near Peotone have gone on since the late 1960s – which is why property owners such as John Hanno continue to live life as if those plans don’t exist.
Hanno, 67, a retired carpenter and electrician, spent last week in Monee constructing an agriculture building for his organic farm. In the works later this year is a three-bedroom home on the same 13-acre property.
But Hanno’s property lies well within the controversial South Suburban Airport’s second footprint, meaning the state has targeted his land for expansion plans following the inaugural airport’s opening.
“I definitely plan to live here. This is some of the best farmland you can get,” said Hanno, who now lives in Oak Forest but maintains his organic farm operations in Monee.
“I’m 67 right now. Ten years, if it’s lucky, the state will just be starting,” Hanno said. “Maybe by then I’ll be ready to call it quits. I don’t know.”
The state in 2001 began an aggressive push to buy land for the future airport, and this summer it purchased Bult Field – a general aviation airport near Monee and a key component of to the overall plan to develop the airport – for $34 million.
State officials consider the transaction a huge milestone. It covers 288 acres, including the airport’s 5,000-foot runway, taxiway, hangars and terminal, as well as additional farmland surrounding the airfield near Monee.
Before the Bult Field purchase, the state spent about $42 million acquiring about 3,000 of the 5,800 acres needed for the airport. In the past year alone, the Illinois Department of Transportation acquired about 1,500 acres.
In all, the state is in the condemnation process with about 11 parcels of land totaling 386 acres and, as of September, was negotiating on 19 parcels totaling 910 acres.
Completion of the estimated $700 million airport project with the help of private investors is still years away, but the state expects to get the Federal Aviation Administration’s stamp of approval on its master plan later this year.
Supporters believe the project will bring jobs and much-needed economic development to the region and ease congestion at Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports. But property owners who live in the footprint don’t want to see their homes bulldozed for a project they believe is a waste of money.
Homeowners such as Lester “Rocky” Batterman, of Peotone, have been targeted for land acquisition. For the past year, Batterman has negotiated with the state for a fair deal on property he first bought in 1984.
The situation is unique for Batterman, who, after finding out his property was in the footprint, moved his family six miles south.
Batterman said he thinks the state — after more than a decade of dealing with willing sellers — is no longer dealing with him in good faith, knowing that he has two mortgages looming over his head and wants out.
“I think they’re using that against me, knowing I’m at a financial disadvantage because of two mortgages and they are trying to squeeze me out for a lower price,” he said.
His decision to move to another home earlier this year doesn’t negate the fact he wants a fair deal, he said. The state’s last offer in September was $280,000, but he believes the property is worth $390,000 — comparable to similar properties within the footprint.
He says he’s put a lot of money into the property, including remodeling on his home and a new $90,000 farm shed after a fire destroyed his old one in 2007.
“The problem is this thing has gone on so long. It’s got everybody living within this airport site in limbo,” Batterman said. “Our property value is way down because nobody wants to buy a piece of property within this airport.”
Less than a mile to the northwest of Batterman lives Everett and Bonnie Moeller. The couple first bought their home on Ridgeland Avenue in Peotone in 1976. It’s where they raised their children and where they planned to live out the rest of their lives.
But changes in the airport’s footprint last year put the couple’s one-acre parcel within its boundaries, leaving them with one choice: negotiate the best deal with the state.
“You wake up at night every once in a while thinking about it and it upsets you,” said Everett Moeller, 70, a retired Beecher High School teacher.
His wife, Bonnie, retired this past year. She said reality hit one recent summer morning as she sat in the couple’s sun room.
“It just hit me that this all could be swiped away and I could be sitting in an apartment somewhere,” she said. “Everything would be gone.”
‘Victims of circumstance’
Tim Czarnicki and his wife Kathy live just outside the southeast corner of the footprint, meaning the state isn’t after their property. But The Czarnickis will have an airport as a neighbor.
“My whole life will be disrupted once that’s right outside my window. We’re just victims of circumstance in that we have no choice in the matter,” Tim Czarnicki said. “It’s going to take years to build and I can just imagine the rumblings of the construction dump trucks on the road outside my window. And then the airplanes.”
He said plans for the airport have been dragged out for so long that he hopes there’s never a groundbreaking. But that may be too optimistic, he said.
“Us who are sitting here are just pawns. I know I’m going to lose our home, our life’s blood,” he said. “When I really feel that it’s going to happen, the house goes up for sale.”