Rich James: Freeman-Wilson undaunted by Gary Airport obstacles
Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:16 PM
MERRILLVILLE – You know the
saying that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.
I suspect Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Gary/Chicago
International Airport Authority have that feeling right about now.
because it was announced last week that completion of a $166-million
expansion project was being delayed – again. Rather than being ready at
the end of this year, it now is estimated that the project, largely
runway expansion, won’t be completed until September 2014 at the
Despite the delay, the Airport Authority will
proceed with plans to attract a private investor willing to put up at
least $100 million as part of a private/public partnership. The
expansion project involves railroad relocation and remediation of
polluted soil and groundwater to allow for runway expansion.
irony is that the very thing that led to Northwest Indiana becoming an
industrial giant is now blocking the area’s future. The land around the
airport is among the most polluted in the country. And that obviously
didn’t happen overnight.
The Airport Authority, which has
been both functional and dysfunctional over the years, has known from
the beginning that the level of pollution was extraordinary.
Unfortunately, the authority has too often been slow in acting over the
For instance, the authority foolishly asked the
Indiana Department of Environmental Management to allow it to
permanently cap a pile of contaminated soil that was removed and dumped
along the south edge of the airport. IDEM turned down the request, so
the work continues and the completion is delayed.
all, Freeman-Wilson, who has been in office for just a year and a half,
remains undaunted. She and most of the movers and shakers in Northwest
Indiana know the growth of the airport is the key for the future of Gary
and all of the area.
With the runway expansion, Gary will
have greater capability than Midway Airport in Chicago. And with the
expansion, there seemingly will be less chance for the construction of
an airport in Peotone west of Gary in Illinois.
Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has brought the most money into the
$166-million expansion project. The Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority has been another leading contributor. And former
Gov. Mitch Daniels, shortly after his first inauguration, said airport
expansion was the eye to the future of Northwest Indiana.
is one thing for certain at this point. The Airport Authority must make
certain that there is not another delay beyond September 2014. There is
a lot riding on it, and if the new deadline isn’t met, it will become
clear as to why Gov. Mike Pence was pushing for more control of the
Rich James has been writing about state
and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a
columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.