Why some oppose proposed new runway at Waukegan National Airport

Opponents of a proposed runway extension at Waukegan National Airport will host an information session Thursday in advance of the release of a draft environmental assessment and public hearing.

Grassroots groups have been critical of the 1,000-foot extension of runway 5/23 as proposed because it would require the acquisition of 52 acres of the 774-acre Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserve.

The loss of forest preserve land in an already underserved area and increased noise and pollution from increased jet traffic are among the concerns regarding the $186 million proposal.

The session is at 6:30 p.m. at the Zion Public Library, 2400 Gabriel Ave., in Zion. It will include a PowerPoint presentation, Q&A, and remarks by Bill Morris, former state senator and Waukegan mayor.

Local conservationists say the Waukegan Port District-owned airport has not made its case for a new runway and the forest preserve land.

"It's a complex issue," said Doug Ower, of the Sierra Club Woods and Wetlands Group.

Airport officials say the new 7,000-foot runway is required to comply with modern Federal Aviation Administration safety standards. According to airport officials, the current runway no longer can be repaired and rebuilding it would close the airport for up to three years, harming the local economy and threatening hundreds of jobs.

To avoid a shut down, a new runway would be built 400 feet away from the existing one. Forest preserve property is needed for a required safety buffer zone but the land would be kept as open space except for a small corner of the taxiway, officials have said.

The port district would pay for the land, clear it of buckthorn and establish the property in keeping with the surrounding preserve area, said Skip Goss, the airport general manager/director.

Airport officials also said they will pay for a multiuse trail from Delaney Road to just west of Green Bay Road.

Forest preserve commissioners in February voted 16-3 to approve a nonbinding "memorandum of agreement" with the port district and the FAA to get the process moving but emphasized that doesn't represent a commitment to sell the property.

All concerned have been awaiting a draft environmental assessment to be followed by a public hearing. The forest preserve district received an initial assessment for comment but a public release and public hearing has been delayed.

"Waukegan National Airport has been undertaking a master planning process for over a decade," an FAA spokesperson said Tuesday.

"The goal to bring runway 5/23 into compliance with FAA airport design standards, in particular the runway safety areas and object free areas required beyond the runway ends," according to the FAA.

A public hearing will be scheduled once the environmental assessment is approved for public release but no estimate of when that might happen was given. Visit for information on the project and how to comment.

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