About 30 landowners came to the American Legion Hall in Peotone on Wednesday night to meet the man who promised to “help everyone as much as possible” though the “very unnerving situation” of losing their land to the proposed Illiana Expressway.
Joliet attorney Mike Hansen has been appointed by the Will County Board to act as an ombudsman — an independent liaison between the Illinois Department of Transportation and the hundreds of people from whom it needs to acquire land for the planned 47-mile tollway between Interstate 55 near Wilmington and I-65 near Lowell, Ind.
For over nearly two hours, Hansen explained the land acquisition process and fielded comments and questions from landowners who are losing their homes and family farms. While Hansen cannot represent them in negotiating an offer from IDOT, he said he can get answers to their questions and make sure they are treated fairly.
IDOT needs to acquire between 375 and 400 properties and relocate 50 to 60 households, a process that could start as early as June 1, when IDOT hopes to get the green light from the federal government to construct the tollway.
Under IDOT’s plan, the Illiana Expressway would be realized through a private-public partnership in which a private company would build and operate the highway, paying off its project debt via tolls.
“I want to be down here and be involved and not just some attorney from Joliet,” Hansen told the group.
He urged people to contact him and stressed that they will not be charged for his services. His salary is paid through a grant obtained by IDOT.
Beginning March 25, Hansen will have office hours from 3 to 6 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month at Washington Township Hall, 30200 Town Center Road, Beecher.
A ombudsman also was appointed to work with landowners within the footprint of the proposed South Suburban Airport, but many said there was a “trust” issue with him.
“Time will tell,” if Hansen will have a positive impact on the land purchasing process, said Duane Temme, of Peotone, who lives within 400 feet of the planned tollway. “This gives us someone to go to.”
Although Temme is not losing any property, like many at the meeting he’s concerned about the new road’s impact on drainage. Others are worried about declining property value, future closures of local roads and a lack of respect for their property rights.
Contractors, engineers and surveyors who want access to their property have used “bully tactics,” Virginia Hamann, of Peotone, said. “They have no respect for landowners.”
Will County Board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said she’s trying to create a “bill of rights” with the Will County Farm Bureau to ensure that people are treated fairly. She urged those in the audience to “make some noise” and let state and local officials know their concerns.
Fearing a fate similar to their neighbors, whose land and homes were acquired for an airport that remains a long way from reality, some of those at the meeting questioned Hansen on whether that could happen to them.
“Could the project not go? Anything could happen,” he said.
Full story here.
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