Frustrations mounting over long-delayed sale of Paxton's airport

PAXTON — Frustration has been mounting among city officials in recent months over the length of time it has taken the city to sell its airport.

Since the city council agreed in principle to sell the facility to a private party in February 2017, aldermen have waited patiently for the news that the deal has been finalized.

However, that news has not yet come from the city’s tax-increment financing consultant, Springfield attorney Dan Schuering, who has been working with Mayor Bill Ingold on the property sale.

And the patience of the city’s elected aldermen, it seems, is starting to run out.

“Mr. Mayor, we were given a deadline, self-imposed, by Mr. Schuering (to get the sale completed), is that correct? He said 45 days at one point, did he not?”  Alderman Rob Pacey asked Ingold during a July meeting.

“I think he said 30 days,” Ingold responded.

“My point’s been made,” Pacey then said.

It was back in March when Schuering told the city council he would like to get the airport’s sale completed “by the end of the city’s fiscal year” on May 1.

But May came and went, and in July, Schuering pushed his deadline back to the “end of the summer,” a statement that later led Alderman Bill Wylie to question what specific date that meant.

Summer ended with no news, too, and with no resolution expected immediately, an item that had been listed on the agenda of each month’s city council meeting for more than a year — the approval of the sale of the airport — was not listed on either the September or October meeting agendas.

Despite the lack of progress, the mayor said Monday that the sale of the airport is still being pursued. The delays in selling the airport, Ingold added, are not a result of issues related to the terms of the transaction, but rather are the result of issues related to the landfill property next to it.

The city wants to sell both the airport and landfill properties, but it does not want to sell one and not the other. The sale of the landfill property, however, has been hung up by red tape, as the city has been trying for months to get the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to certify the landfill as having completed its post-closure care period — something that needs to happen before the landfill site can be sold.

The landfill has been closed since 1991, yet the IEPA has repeatedly denied the city’s application for the site to be certified for completion of post-closure care. Instead, the IEPA has been asking the city to do more monitoring of the site — with the latest request being that the city take groundwater samples from the eight wells there. That happened this summer, but the IEPA has yet to release the city from its obligation to monitor the site.

The city is working to sell the landfill to a different person than the airport. The same person interested in buying the landfill also wants to buy a small piece of land where a small building used to sit on the south end of the airport, Ingold said. If all goes as planned, the landfill’s prospective buyer would negotiate an agreement with the prospective buyer of the airport to use the airport’s runway for a crop-spraying business.

Earlier this year, Schuering expressed concerns that the city could end up being sued by the landfill’s prospective buyer if the city were to sell the airport but not the landfill. In April, Ingold said he was working to negotiate the possibility of selling the airport first, given the amount of time it may take to clear the landfill from its IEPA restrictions.

It appears that scenario is now unlikely, though.

“We’re not seeing many municipalities’ airports being sold, so we want to make sure we’re doing it the right way so we don’t have something come back and bite us,” Ingold said.

Ingold said he would like both properties to be sold soon to bring them back on the property tax rolls. How soon that will happen remains to be seen.

“Do I like it? No. Is it just the way it is? Yeah,” a clearly-frustrated Ingold said. “That’s just what’s happening when you’re dealing with the EPA. We certainly don’t want to stub our toe and have them ask us to do more stuff.”

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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