Judge backs IDOT in airport land condemnation lawsuit - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Judge backs IDOT in airport land condemnation lawsuit

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The state can move forward with a plan to condemn land in the footprint of the proposed South Suburban Airport, a Will County judge ruled Friday.

Attorneys for the Barbour family, who own land in the planned airport's footprint, had filed a motion in Will County Circuit Court to dismiss a condemnation lawsuit filed by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The department says the Barbour property — 300 acres near Will Center Road and Eagle Lake Road in Will Township — lies in the footprint of the inaugural airport.

"I believe it's a devastating decision for every land owner in the state of Illinois, that the state can go forward with eminent domain before they have approval for a project. Especially this project, that has gone on for so many years," said Judy Ogalla, a county board member and vice president of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down (STAND).

The Barbour family owns three parcels that IDOT offered to purchase for $3.9 million. The family has refused the offer, and had hoped Judge Susan O'Leary would dismiss the condemnation cases subsequently filed by the state.

O'Leary issued an order Friday denying the Barbours' motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

She said the Barbours' argument — that the state's attempt to take their land through eminent domain is premature, as the Federal Aviation Administration has not issued its final approval for the project — didn't hold water.

"Had the Legislature intended that land could not be acquired until the entire project was fully funded or until all approvals had been acquired from FAA, it could have said so," O'Leary wrote. "It did not limit IDOT's power to those circumstances and in fact since 1999, annually appropriated money to IDOT for the purpose of procuring land for the airport."

Attorneys for IDOT and for the Barbours declined to comment on the decision.

William Ryan, an attorney representing the Barbours, had argued in court there was no public purpose for the land grab, because the state does not have full FAA approval for the airport.

Jim Mueller, an attorney for IDOT, had said there is no question that the airport will be built, and that the state needs to acquire land to preserve the site for the airport, which also will prevent buildings such as schools being built next to the airport footprint.

State officials say IDOT has acquired close to 45 percent of the land covering the airport's inaugural footprint and spent almost $38 million to buy 2,667 acres from willing sellers for the project. IDOT officials say they need 5,800 acres.

Ogalla said O'Leary's decision opposes the Will County Board's feeling that there should be no land acquisition through eminent domain until the airport's governance has been decided.

"It's a sad day for everybody in the state of Illinois that the legislation to protect private property is so weak," Ogalla said. "Government can do anything, apparently."

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