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Board split on land swap

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

The ISG land swap proposal is shaping up into a classic North vs. South political match on the Cook County Forest Preserve Board.

South suburban commissioners, led by Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), have been enthusiastic about the deal.

Democratic Commissioners Larry Suffredin of Evanston and Mike Quigley of Chicago's North Side, who pride themselves on their environmental records, say the deal should not go through.

ISG wants 21 acres of the Whistler Woods Forest Preserve to expand its plant at 135th Street and Perry Avenue in Riverdale. In trade, ISG would give the district 31 acres it owns just across the Little Calumet River in Chicago, south of 127th Street.

Sims is confident there will be enough votes on the board to pass it. But she acknowledged a growing uneasiness by board members when deciding to send the matter to committee rather than push for a vote today.

"If I had all of my ducks lined up, I would have (gone for a vote)," Sims said. "We're sending it to committee so that we get all the information and have everything laid out. ... These days everyone seems to think everyone's doing something underhanded and corrupt."

Sims said she has a solid eight of the nine votes needed for approval and thinks she can get at least one more after presentations in the forest preserve finance committee.

Board President John Stroger (D-Chicago) has not committed on the issue, spokesman Steve Mayberry said.

"He doesn't want to opine one way or the other until he's gotten a full report," Mayberry said. "Generally, we've been against (land swaps), but that's not to color this issue."

Commissioners Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) and Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) have been working in support of the swap, with Murphy helping line up the support needed for approval in the state legislature.

"We need the jobs, we need the development," Murphy said. "As long as the (environmental) report comes in that it's good land, I think it's a good swap."

Sims said she's seen an environmental report provided by ISG and the county would get land that's in pretty good shape.

"They found two small areas that had some contaminates on it, and they're going to clean it up," Sims said.

Suffredin and Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) had concerns about dealing with a company that has recently changed hands.

"I'm opposed to this. ... The last time (Mittal Steel) bought a company in this area, it cost thousands of jobs," Suffredin said. "The only way I could be in favor of this is if we have some very significant penalties if these jobs aren't created."

Sims said she'll have a jobs proposal from ISG by the time the committee considers the deal.

"I would not be doing this if they weren't going to give us these things in writing," Sims said.

Quigley opposes giving away any forest preserve land, even if the district stands to gain more in return.

"It's a very dangerous, slippery slope," Quigley said. "How do you say no to the next one? People will always want prime land and want to give away sub-prime land. ... What happens when a mall asks for land and promises 1,000 jobs?"

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