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Johnson vows to continue airport fight without Geils
By James Kane | Daily Herald Staff

Frank Soto


Craig Johnson


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Published: 4/9/2009 12:04 AM

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Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson vowed Wednesday to go it alone if need be in the multiyear, multimillion dollar fight against the $15 billion expansion of O'Hare International Airport.

"Elk Grove's efforts haven't changed one iota," Johnson said following the 2-1 defeat of six-term Bensenville Mayor John Geils, the other leader of the anti-expansion movement.

Elk Grove Village has spent about $6 million so far fighting Chicago's O'Hare plans, with much of the money going to various court cases. "We've been partners in all these court cases - 50/50," Johnson said of Bensenville.

While incoming Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto also opposes the southern runway that is devastating a Bensenville neighborhood, he has criticized the costly legal fees spent in what he calls a lost cause, and said he'd rather negotiate for financial benefits and jobs.

Johnson said he wants to sit down with Soto and see just where he stands. But the towns have always had somewhat different agendas, he said. Elk Grove's issue is with plans for a ring road which could devastate the village's industrial park - its cash and jobs cow - if the road follows Route 83.

"Our main issue is the roadway, not the runway," he said.

And he conceded that recent developments - Geils' loss combined with an Illinois Department of Transportation proposal that would route the road through the airport, not Elk Grove Village - could finally spell the end of the contentious and expensive struggle.

While Chicago hasn't publicly opposed the O'Hare route, which is one of several being considered, Johnson's fear is that it may do so, especially if it believes it's on the verge of getting what it wants with Geils' departure.

"We have to be more vigilant today than we did yesterday," he said, because the village is the sole remaining obstacle to the O'Hare expansion plan.

It may be a year before IDOT rules on the road route. "Until Elk Grove is protected, we cannot let our guard down," said Johnson, who presented 36,000 comment cards favoring the airport route at a recent IDOT public hearing.

Even if the acrimony between Chicago and the two villages finally is put to rest, the city faces the challenge of finding funding for its plan in a faltering economy where airlines are financially stressed.

Johnson said he was surprised by the Geils loss, but that mayors do make enemies over the years.

"John's done a lot of good things for that community. I don't think his contributions will be fully appreciated until later," he said.