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AReCO in the News

Source: Rockford Register Star

    By COLUMNIST: Chuck Sweeny, political editor

Date: October 14, 2004

Copyright 2004, Rockford Register Star

O'Hare-Rockford pact can help both airports



So, what's it mean, this airport "agreement" between Chicago and Rockford? Should we believe that the big city will help build air traffic at Greater Rockford Airport, doing business as Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport and No Grill at Rockford? Most are hailing, a few are hurling.

Take this e-mail from Jack Saporito. He's executive director of the Arlington Heights-based Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, a watchdog group skeptical of O'Hare International Airport expansion.

"Trust me ... this is either a red herring regarding O'Hare expansion and/or a Trojan horse. ... You and I both know that (Chicago Mayor Richard) Daley doesn't give anything away. THIS IS SOME TYPE OF DALEY SCHEME!"

HERE'S THE OPPOSITEview: "Finally, common sense prevails," said Gail Hill of Delton, Mich. "I lived in the Rockford area for 17 years. I was always amazed that the Rockford airport always seemed to be overlooked when there was talk of another regional airport or taking congestion away from O'Hare. ... I would love someday to be able to fly from Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo to Rockford to visit my family there."

The agreement is a Sept. 27 letter from Chicago Airport Commissioner John Roberson to Mayor Doug Scott. It says Chicago will share information with Rockford about airlines interested in serving Chicagoland but can't find space at O'Hare or Midway airports. Chicago will also help Rockford lobby for favorable state and federal legislation and regulations.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Springfield, played a central role in getting the right people together to make the agreement happen.

The pact is good for both Chicago and Rockford, said Pat Souders, Durbin's projects manager, and it wouldn't have been possible without the relationship that mayors Daley and Scott have built.

"They get along very well, are at a lot of conferences together, and believe me, the city of Chicago doesn't part with these types of arrangements very easily," Souders said.

CASH-STRAPPED CHICAGO makes money from its airports, and can use the passenger fees from O'Hare in the city general fund, something few cities are allowed to do.

"Chicago has now started to realize that for O'Hare to thrive, they need to take a look at the congestion that has plagued the region for years," said Souders, who has helped Durbin work on Rockford airport issues for years.

"They're saying that maybe Rockford does have a role to play in reducing that congestion, and when we're talking to the FAA and the airlines, Rockford ought to be at the table," Souders said. "Daley is saying Rockford can be a partner."

Indeed, Rockford airport Executive Director Bob O'Brien and Scott say Chicago can make money off the partnership if smaller, regional jets get reassigned to RFD, saving valuable slots at O'Hare for the new generation of monster jets.

I hope O'Brien, Durbin and Scott are right, and that the folks who cry "Scheme!" are wrong.