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posted: 1/2/2014 3:32 PM

Editorial: A satisfying truce ends airport battle

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We don't have a problem with honest disagreement. A good argument can introduce new points of view, put a focus on logic (or lack thereof), build momentum and give birth to creative solutions.

But when it devolves into a long-standing feud, any benefits melt away. Sooner or later, everyone involved ends up on the losing side.

That's why we're congratulating Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris and Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer for publicly ending years of bickering between the two towns over the Chicago Executive Airport.

The squabble has percolated since the two governments took over ownership of the airport, formerly Palwaukee, in 1986. Mistrust long has brewed over each town's allegations that the other was pursuing its own agenda on developing airport property within its borders. Personality conflicts fed the feud.

"Through the years people just wanted to prove who was the tough guy," Argiris told Daily Herald staff writer Deborah Donovan.

Recent issues included disagreement over choosing the airport's board chairman and Prospect Heights' claim that it was owed money from sales taxes collected on goods and fuel sold on the Wheeling side of the airport.

As often happens, the aggrieved parties called in the lawyers. That's when taxpayers' interests really can take a beating.

But the disagreement cost taxpayers in other ways, too, by stymying development, Argiris acknowledged last fall.

Potential investors in businesses at the airport "know there's friction," he said. "How would you like to invest millions of dollars in a spot where the partners are fighting?"

If Argiris and Helmer can keep their towns' new bond strong, the future looks bright for Chicago Executive, recently named the state's "top reliever airport" by the Illinois Department of Transportation for its role easing air congestion at O'Hare and Midway. Chicago Executive handles 80,000 takeoffs and landings a year, making it the state's third busiest airport, IDOT reported.

Construction is under way on a 40,000-square-foot hangar for plane refueling and pilot and passenger lounges that will bring new jobs, Helmer said during last summer's groundbreaking.

Argiris' and Helmer's leadership in solving the entrenched dispute sets a great example for other suburbs. They negotiated a $475,000 payment from Wheeling to Prospect Heights for past sales taxes earned at the airport and an equal split of proceeds from January 2013 on. They agreed the airport's board should hire and fire its executive director, a duty the towns had shared (and argued about.)

The two are delighted by what happened after they decided to extend the olive branch. "Dean and I came to an understanding to work together as business people and good partners," Helmer said.

Good for them, and good for the taxpayers.

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