More information could be available later this week about the ramifications of a pending close to the CIRA air traffic control tower. (photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Zach Dietmeier
BLOOMINGTON - As they work toward a finalized budget for fiscal year 2014, the City of Bloomington is turning its attention to Central Illinois Regional Airport.
Mayor Steve Stockton said possible solutions will be discussed this week for the impending sequestration cut of CIRA's air traffic control tower.
"We feel like we're being unfairly shut out," Stockton said. "We are concerned about safety and the general consensus is that we cannot allow this tower to be shut down."
Council members Jennifer McDade and Rob Fazzini both attended the annual One Voice trip to Washington D.C. and said Bloomington, Normal, McLean County, and other major businesses in the area have all had talks of what can be done to save the tower. Fazzini questioned the motivation of aiport closings due to sequestration cuts altogether.
"The reason we might be closed is that we have contract employees in the control tower," Fazzini said. "The FAA helps pay for that and if we used our own employees the FAA would pay for that. The fact that we have contract employees means that we are using less FAA money. Peoria, meanwhile, uses its own employees and yet they are going to get to stay open."
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is a Peoria native and represented the 18th Congressional District containing the Peoria Regional Airport for 14 years.
"We did spend some time speaking about the airport issues on the trip," McDade said. "Many if not all of the individuals on the trip are the ones who will be working to ensure that our area continues to have quality, safe air service."
The Airport Authority has said the tower will stay open, but Stockton claimed no plan is set and all groups will meet later this week to present a united front. Wide-scale action could be taken soon against the Federal Aviation Administration's decision. Stockton said legal action against the FAA could be possible along with a request for reimbursement if local employees are used to keep the control tower running.
"We're the largest airport that they intend to shut down by far," Stockton said. "Of all the airports being shut down, the smallest 175 combined are about the same size as our aiport."
More input on what the city should do with its 2014 budget is still coming in to the city council. Tom and Meredith Lovelass control Meredith's Properties which are involved in several business projects around the intersection of Auto Row Drive, GE Road, and Keaton Place just to the east of Veterans Parkway. They want to see traffic lights at that intersection.
"There really are a couple of opportunities for more development," Tom Lovelass said. "There's a very big vacant lot between La-Z-Boy and Federal Express."
The Lovelass's say the need is for safety and extending economic development in that region. Meredith Lovelass said accidents frequently happen in the area in question and businesses are impacted by an inability to easily access her stores.
"There are 14 businesses that lay along this track and we are in charge of 10 whether through ownership, management, or through an association," Lovelass said. "We feel this is very important to get passed for this year."
Meredith's Properties include Mattress Firm Superstore, Pier 1, Beds Direct, Golf Discount, Qdoba, and Biaggi's.
The final budget vote will come at the city's next meeting on April 8. The Lovelass's request is currently included at a cost of $350,000 for all three light projects.