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Kankakee airport eyes rise with major improvements

KANKAKEE — It could be said the Greater Kankakee Airport is one of the region’s best kept secrets.

But if the vision laid out by commissioners of the Kankakee Valley Airport Authority Board at Monday’s meeting is realized, the stature of the already valuable facility is sure to rise exponentially.

The board is in the process of creating a committee for airport improvements. Still in its infant stages, the plan at this point is specifically aimed toward upgrading the runway so it can handle larger aircraft on a frequent basis.

The main runway already rivals Chicago’s Midway Airport for length, but the local landing location lacks the necessary depth, width and overall strength to handle larger aircraft which land regularly.

The first step toward making the intended improvements is to secure confirmation from a major carrier indicating its intention to use the Kankakee runway. KVAA Board Chairman Rende Langlois said the carrier being sought is not one such as United or Southwest Airlines, as larger commercial service is not part of the plan.

“We need a letter from a carrier,’’ Langlois said. While no such carrier has yet been identified, Langlois cited hypothetical examples such as the Illinois Department of Transportation, or a major mover of merchandise such as FedEx, UPS or Amazon.

These firms typically use larger planes such as 737 models to move product, and the Kankakee airport currently can’t handle these aircraft until the surface of the runway is fortified and made wider.

“The taxiways are not wide enough,’’ Langlois said, “because a 737 doesn’t have the turning range it needs.’’

The activity at the Kankakee airport can already serve as a selling point to attract such a carrier. Airport manager Jeff Benoit said he regularly looks out the window of the facility and sees aircraft associated with CSL Behring, Meier, Aldi and other major local retailers and places of business land.

Once such a letter is in hand, the KVAA can go about the task of securing federal and other types of funding to complete this major infrastructure advancement. Langlois is stressing patience, as the process will not be completed overnight.

“It will be a years-long process,’’ he said. It’s also something Langlois, a veteran board member, wants to help guide until its finished. He believes its emergence could attract “big box’’ distribution centers in the adjoining areas of the 700-acre facility. Such centers are common along different parts of I-57 and also nearby Interstate 80.

“My goal is to improve the airport,’’ he said.

Judge candidates discuss cash bond system

KANKAKEE — The race for 21st Circuit judge pits Associate Judge Bill Dickenson against attorney Kenneth Wright.

The two candidates fielded questions during Tuesday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP and its political action committee at the Kankakee Public Library.

Dickenson, a Republican, has been a judge since 2018. Prior to that, he spent 27 years as an assistant state’s attorney in Kankakee County. Wright, a Democrat, has been an attorney for 20 years. He is a 1991 graduate of Kankakee High School.

The winner will replace Judge Clark Erickson, who retires Nov. 4.

During his opening statement, Wright said he is not a politician.

“I’m not running for a political position,” Wright said. “I’m an impartial decision maker for everyone in this county. I’m not going to read some statement. I’ve been practicing law for 20 years. I’m here because I am qualified. I’m uniquely qualified for three reasons: I’m from this area. I’m not from the good old boys network. And I have fresh ideas. Also, I am an asset to the judicial system.”

Presenting his qualifications during his opening statement, Dickenson said he replaced Associate Judge Kenneth Leshen who retired in 2018.

“I have proven myself over the past two-plus years to have been a good and effective judge,” he said. “I am qualified with the qualifications most necessary in our judiciary: integrity, impartiality, legal ability temperament, court management skills, good health, sensitivity in areas of bias and diversity.

“I’ve devoted my entire legal career to public service and to making our area and our communities a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.”

An issue the state has dealt that took center stage at Tuesday’s forum is the cash bond system.

In 2018, a law went into effect splitting crimes into two categories. The goal of this reform is to curtail the practice of holding defendants in custody for lengthy periods of time simply because they cannot afford to come up with the money to pay for their pre-trial release.

Category A includes Class X, Class 1, and Class 2 felonies as well as some Class 3 and 4 felonies. A judge will set a cash bond.

Category B includes business offenses, petty offenses, Class A, B, and C misdemeanors, and Class 3 and 4 felonies. In these cases, a judge usually sets a recognizance bond.

There is now an effort to revise the system again.

The Pretrial Fairness Act would reform the pretrial justice system and end the use of cash bonds. Bonds would be set to detain people who pose a risk to public safety.

Wright said the current system is unfair.

“It’s not fair that people of means have a better chance of getting out of jail [on bond] than people who don’t have the means,” Wright said. “People that have the means commit crimes and are just as much a threat or flight risk as a person who doesn’t have means.

“Plenty of people sit in jail because they can’t afford to get out and worse, there are plenty of people who plead guilty to that wouldn’t have because they were tired of sitting in jail,” he said. “I believe it needs to be revamped.”

Dickenson said the situation is currently undergoing a great revision.

“As a judge I set bonds every day very scrupulously,” he said. “If there is a person who should not be there, I have no hesitation in letting them out on a recognizance bond, and I do it all the time.”

2 dead following multi-vehicle crash on I-57 in Iroquois County

Daily Journal staff report

Two people have died following a three-vehicle crash early Tuesday morning on Interstate 57 in Iroquois County.

The crash occurred at 12:53 a.m. at mile marker 266, 6 miles north of Buckley, Illinois State Police said in a news release. The crash closed down the interstate for eight hours.

The driver of a 2019 Honda Civic, a 26-year-old male from Onarga, and a passenger in a 2010 Ford Fusion, were both pronounced dead at the scene by the Iroquois County coroner. The names of those involved in the crash have not yet been released. A 3-week-old infant of Beaverville, who was a passenger in the Fusion, was airlifted to a local area hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Three other people were taken to local hospitals with non-life threatening injuries.

State police said in the release that a preliminary investigation indicated the Civic was traveling south on the interstate. For an unknown reason, it crossed over the median into the northbound lanes and struck the Fusion, which was traveling north.

Following the collision, a 2020 truck tractor semi-trailer also traveling north crashed into the Fusion, causing a female and infant in the back seat to be ejected.

Chairman Wheeler's leave from county board to be temporary?


KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler made it official and announced at the end of Tuesday’s monthly board meeting that he was leaving the board, as he’s moving outside of his district which is in the city of Kankakee. He might not be off the board for very long though.

“On Nov. 6 I will be moving out of County Board District 15, and that will be my last day on the board,” he said. “I wanted to make that announcement now.”

Wheeler, a Republican, has lived in his Riverview home in Kankakee since 2003, and he’s moving to Bourbonnais. He wanted to dispel rumors circulating on social media as to why he’s making the move.

“I bought a place in Bourbonnais,” he said in an interview following Monday’s meeting. “... I’ve still got to fix up the inside of the house [in Kankakee], so that’s going to take some time to get it on the market. I’ve done some work on the exterior. I’ll be living in Bourbonnais. I just bought the property two or three weeks ago.

“I’m not moving in with my mom,” he said of recent online reports. “I bought the house, and my mom is moving in with me. She’s 80 and has got some health issues. She needs some help.”

Wheeler decided in August not to run for re-election in his Kankakee district, as he would be running against Democrat Kimberly Hudson, a former teacher at Bishop McNamara Catholic High School. The district in the lower Riverview subdivision has a large number of Democrats, and he said it was an election where “there is no path to victory for me.” Wheeler was elected to the board in 2012 and has been chairman since 2016.

The new residence in Bourbonnais is located in District 26, which currently has a vacancy due to Mike Zenz’s move out the district in September. Its boundaries are Career Center Road on the west, Interstate 57 on the east, County Road 6000 on the north and Larry Power Road on the south.

Wheeler confirmed he moved into the district so he would be available to take over Zenz’s vacant seat.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I could’ve moved to a different place in Bourbonnais, and I selected this one. I’d like to continue to be on the board, but ultimately that’s the board’s decision.”

The board’s first order of business at its next meeting on Nov. 10 will be to select a temporary board chairman.

“We all assume it will be the vice chairman [Todd Sirois], but that’s the board’s decision,” Wheeler said. “They’ll have to fill the remainder of the month.”

After the temporary chairman is selected, the board can then select a replacement for Zenz, who moved out of the district on Sept. 20. The board has 60 days to name a replacement.

“That’s how it works,” Wheeler said. “That will be the board’s decision on the matter. The chairman for the next two years, that vote is in December.”

The board, which currently has 21 Republicans and six Democrats, could also re-elect Wheeler as chairman should he be appointed to represent District 26.

“I want to stay on the board, and I think the board wants me to stay,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

As chairman Wheeler was part of a dramatic turnaround of county finances from near bankruptcy a few years ago to a balanced and workable budget in 2020.

“It was worse than anybody realized,” Wheeler said. “Definitely, it’s in a different place than it was four years ago. Most people in the county will tell you we’ve done a good job. We’re stable.”

Wheeler also addressed social media reports that he said only had “half the story” about his impending move and implied that he was only changing his legal address.

“I’m actually moving,” he said. “I’m not going to get into people’s vendettas or grudges in the dark corners of the Internet of Kankakee County.”