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TINLEY PARK, IL-For now, the six square miles in Peotone, IL, a rural community on the suburban fringe 50 miles south of Chicago, are primarily overgrown prairie and farms. While many south suburban residents want the jobs, economic growth and travel convenience a third Chicago area airport would bring, many others want to keep their community just the way it is.

That’s what Gov. George Ryan, who must make a decision by Labor Day weekend on a solution to the market’s air travel gridlock before Congress dictates one of its own, heard here Tuesday night in the fourth and final public hearing.

Two of the first three hearings were held in Des Plaines and Bensenville, both suburbs on the border of O’Hare International Airport. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s $6-billion plan for O’Hare includes adding and reconfiguring runways, shifting them to an entirely east-west pattern. The result not only would result in property in Bensenville being taken by sale or eminent domain, including 240 multifamily rental units, but residents in other suburbs say it would only increase noise and traffic at airport that has regained the title as the world’s busiest.

While noise would come to quiet Peotone, it would inevitably mean hotel, retail and commercial development around a new airport, something that mayors and business leaders in the area have dreamed about for 15 years. “It would create a lot of jobs in the south suburbs, where there is a lot of joblessness right now,” says Ronald J. Brow, communications coordinator for the Chicago Southern Chamber of Commerce. “It would be more accessible than O’Hare and Midway are, to get a flight out of town. Some time in the future we’ll need another airport. Now is as good a time as any.”

The political stars may be aligned properly, as Ryan and Daley have enjoyed an unusually cozy bipartisan relationship. While they may differ on Peotone–Ryan supports it–an airport there may be part of a compromise giving Daley the O’Hare expansion he desires. And although opponents point to a viable third-airport possibility in Gary, IN, neither political party would be happy seeing it locate across the state line. Although Gary’s airport is landlocked, some Peotone airport opponents conceded as much, whether they were among the estimated 1,000 that made it inside the Tinley Park Convention Center for the hearing, or among the dozens locked out by police because of fire regulations.

“If Gary were 10 miles west, we would not be having this,” says Arlene Adamsick, a retired teacher from Peotone whose grandfather owned a farm that would sit on the fence around the new airport. As for convenience, Adamsick says, “We can make it in an hour from Peotone to O’Hare,” with Midway being about halfway in between.

Adamsick, along with members of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, also scoff at the economic benefits supporters say would flow to the south suburbs, which has lagged behind other suburban areas and include some of the most economically depressed areas in the entire market.

“Where would Elk Grove Village be right now if O’Hare was never built?” Brow says. “The unfortunate thing is, someone will lose their home or property. But of the five different sites that have been studied, this is the most feasible, with the least amount of displacement.”Many Peotone area residents don’t want to see their neighborhood look like the northwest suburbs, even if it means fewer dollars flowing through the local economy.

“I don’t know about it raising property values,” Adamsick says. “There’s a quality of life issue you can’t put a price tag on. I feel my property value would decrease. There’s such a push for saving the environment now, but once you pave that land over, that land is shot.”

However, the area is growing rapidly without the airport. An estimated 2.5 million people live within 20 miles of the airport site.

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