Will the Peotone Airport Ever Fly? Let’s Hope Not

This is a tale of two airports — one real, the other imaginary — located in the peaceful Will County countryside near the small town of Peotone.

The real one used to be an obscure outpost called Sanger Field. It’s now widely known as Bult Field after being purchased in 2006 by Jim Bult, a Monee businessman who named the airport after himself, which I think is fine.

Jim Bult, left, at his airport near Monee, IL, c. 2007 (photo: Schwiess Doors, Inc)

The imaginary one doesn’t have an official name yet, because it doesn’t exist except in the minds of state planners and local politicians, who insist that the phantom airport will be the greatest economic engine the south suburbs have ever seen. It does have several candidates for names, though, including the geographically precise South Suburban Airport; the historically pretentious Abraham Lincoln National Airport; and the delightfully mysterious Great Imaginary Airport (GIA), which I made up.

Bult Field near Monee, IL (photo: FlightAware)

Jim Bult has invested a lot of his own money, $37 million, in Bult Field because, as he told the Herald News in 2009, “I just want a quality runway and hangar here.” As far as I know, Mr. Bult has not asked Illinois taxpayers to subsidize his airport project or future planned upgrades.

In contrast, George Ryan (former Illinois governor and convicted criminal) and Rod Blagojevich (recently impeached Illinois governor and currently under indictment for crimes too numerous to list here) have spent $24 million of taxpayer money to purchase 1,951 acres of land (as of April 2009) and millions more on environmental impact statements, engineering studies, and marketing efforts for an airport that doesn’t exist.

The irony of all this? The real airport, Bult Field, sits right next to where the GIA might someday be; so close, in fact, that the state will probably have to buy Mr. Bult out to avoid airspace conflicts and otherwise looking extremely silly. That’s OK, though, because our current governor, Pat Quinn, recently pledged to spend $100 million (of taxpayer money, I assume) to acquire 3,275 more acres of prime Will County farmland for the project.

Um, I’m a little confused. Isn’t our state billions of dollars in the red? Is it wise to spend $100 million acquiring land for an airport that may never be built, when one right next door, a private airport financed by one man, already exists?

With entertainment like this, who needs to go to the movies? Just head out toward Peotone, and watch the Tale of Two Airports unfold.

This essay appeared as my regular monthly op-ed column in the Joliet Herald-News on 9 April 2009. It was the third in an ongoing series of columns on the controversy surrounding the proposed “South Suburban Airport” near the small town of Peotone in Will County, Illinois. For a map of the Peotone Airport land area that shows the location of Bult Field within the GIA’s footprint, check out the link below.

Peotone Airport Land Acquisition Status Map – Feb 2012 (pdf)

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