CHICAGO - The Federal Aviation Administration last week withdrew a $2 million grant slated for a feasibility study for a new, largely bond-financed airport southwest of Chicago.
The grant to Illinois had been approved by the FAA Jan. 19, the last full day President George Bush was in office. However, in a letter last Thursday to Kirk Brown, Illinois' secretary of transportation, the agency said the grant was only "conditionally approved" at that time and that the agency was withdrawing the money.
An FAA spokesman said yesterday that the grant was pulled because of the lack of a regional consensus on where the airport should be located.
In a statement released Friday, Brown said Illinois "will protest" the agency's decision and blamed politics under the new Democratic administration in Washington for the reversal of the grant approval.
"This smacks of raw, unconscionable politics," Brown said. "The FAA for decades - through both Democratic and Republican national administrations - has pushed for a third major airport in the Chicago metropolitan area. The $2 million grant that had been committed to the state by the previous administration was to be used to determine whether a south suburban airport is feasible and whether a regional consensus could be reached."
Dick Adorjan, Brown's spokesman, said yesterday that the state is preparing a letter to FAA administrator David Hinson, charging that the agency has changed its requirements for the grant.
Last November, Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, proposed building a $1.8 billion airport in Peotone, Ill., a town about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. The proposal followed the failure of the Illinois General Assembly to pass a plan to build an airport on the southeast side of Chicago. The legislature's proposal died despite support from Edgar, Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago.
Daley, a Democrat, has criticized the Peotone site, saying it would not attract enough passengers to be viable.
Edgar proposed financing the Peotone airport with $1.4 billion of general airport revenue bonds, as well as with federal aviation trust fund money, concessions and fuel sales revenues at the new airport, and possibly private funds.
The $2 million FAA grant was to have helped fund a two-year feasibility study for the new airport. The state would have needed another $3.3 million from the FAA to complete the study, state officials have said. Illinois was matching 10% of the federal money for the study.
Adorjan said that the state has already spent $850,000 on the study and will ask the FAA to reimburse it. If the grant is not forthcoming, he said the state will explore other ways to publicly or privately fund the study.