City Of Chicago Finally Caves Over Illegal Meigs Destruction
Friends Of Meigs Not Giving Up On Dream To Rebuild Airport
September 19, 2006 — Three and a half years after destroying the Coolest Little Airport on the Planet, Chicago's City Hall decided to stop fighting the FAA and pay a $33,000 fine for failure to give proper public notice of the closure of Merrill C. Meigs Field. The city also agreed to repay $1 million of the $1.5 million the FAA said it misspent from federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to finance the March 30, 2003, airport demolition and subsequent development of a park on the city's Northerly Island.
"This is a significant milestone that vindicates what we've said from the start," said Steve Whitney, president of the Friends of Meigs Field. "We're grateful that the FAA held the City's feet to the fire. Unfortunately, Mayor Daley is sticking the taxpayers with the bill."
While this would seem to put an end to the Meigs saga, Whitney says it is not the airport's final chapter. FOM's Planes and Parks proposal could add as much as $100 million or more to the Chicago Park District for parks across the city while resurrecting the airport on Northerly Island.
"Our proposal for a combination park/airport/air museum is one possibility," said Whitney. "Others may be feasible as well. The key is to capitalize on Meigs as an airport to benefit both aviation and Chicago parks.
"We're not saying that it's likely to occur, but this isn't a monarchy, and the mayor is up for re-election in February." Meigs backers do admit that so long as Mayor Daley is in office, their Planes and Parks proposal will not be seriously considered.
Whitney went on to thank EAA for its past support of Meigs, including regular monthly Young Eagles flight rallies with the Tuskegee Airmen Dodo Chapter, and the visibility given the issue at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
The FAA originally held that the city improperly used $1.5 million of AIP funds to demolish Meigs, and threatened to impose up to triple the amount ($4.5 million) in penalties. But the FAA allowed the city to claim that some of the money was legitimately spent on environmental cleanup at the site and dropped the penalty.
"The real tragedy with Meigs occurred years ago when it was destroyed, and it can never be replaced," said EAA president Tom Poberezny. "A settlement has been reached that unfortunately puts the burden on Chicago taxpayers, but for aviation and Chicago, it's too little, too late."
The city also amassed more than $500,000 in legal fees during more than two years of legal wrangling. But while the city has agreed to pay, Mayor Richard Daley will not admit any wrongdoing; he clings to the widely dismissed notion that the airport was closed because of an "emergency" due to unnamed "terrorist threats."
Friends of Meigs Field has documented over $490 million in annual spending by Meigs users prior to its demolition. "The economic losses are staggering," Whitney said. "Not only from the loss of business by Meigs users, but also by the additional delays caused by displaced traffic at O'Hare and Midway."
But it remains a tragic story that the once ideal landing facility for business travelers and Young Eagles has been reduced to a part-time concert venue and bike/nature trail.