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Fri, Apr 04, 2003

Aero-News Alert: Meigs Field Temporary Restraining Order Granted!

Just when everyone was about to count Meigs Field as down and out, the "Friends of Meigs Field" have gone to court to seek a Temporary Restraining Order to avert further destruction of the nation's most embattled airport. ANN was pleased to be the first to report that the judge not only granted the TRO but did so without the need for the Friends of Meig to post a bond demanded by the Parks Department.

Don't ever let the Friends of Meigs get mad at you... In the ultimate David and Goliath story (aviation-wise), the folks who believe that Meigs Field deserves to remain an airport, have defeated (even if only temporarily), a powerful and politically cunning enemy, Chicago's Boss of Bosses, Richard "Dirty Tricks" Daley.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge William O. Maki ordered the City of Chicago to refrain from "any further demolition of Meigs Field," pending the outcome of the lawsuit filed by supporters of Meigs (not to mention a number of others in the offing... including actions from the politically savvy and increasingly aggressive AOPA).

After an hour of arguments, Maki ruled in favor of the legal arguments set forth by the Friends of Meigs Field, the Meigs Action Coalition, the Illinois Association of Air and Critical Care Transport, Chicago By Air, and the indefatigable Steven Whitney and Rachel Goldstein. Maki's "TRO" pretty much freezes Daley's impetuous plans for turning the airport into some kind of a park (though critics charge that there are some intriguing land deals in the offing, to boot...). 

Meig's gallant legal team filed their emergency petition in the Chancery Division of Cook County Circuit Court. They charged that Daley, the city of Chicago, and the Park District violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act and the public trust doctrine, and that their actions also threaten public safety. Ultimately; the group's suit hopes to get the Judge to rule that Daley's deceptive destruction of the Meigs runway was illegal. Following that, they hope for a court order that will force the city to restore and reopen the airport ASAP. The next hearing is scheduled for May 16th.

But for now... they came, they argued, they kicked Daley's ass... ya gotta love it.

Earlier, As The Friends Of Meigs Announced The Impending Suit...

Background: Friday morning, the Friends of Meigs Field returned fire in the battle over Meigs Field, Chicago’s downtown airport. Following the City of Chicago’s midnight bulldozing raid on Sunday night, the Friends of Meigs and numerous other plaintiffs filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, challenging the legality of the move, seeking a temporary restraining order against further demolition, and, ultimately, the reopening of the airport. At today’s press conference at the Daley Center, presenters also played a recording of an air traffic control radio conversation that dramatically illustrated the value of Meigs Field to public safety.

“The City’s actions were not only outrageous and shocking to all Chicagoans,” said Rachel Goodstein, President of the Friends of Meigs Field, “they were also illegal. The community cannot afford to let this pass unchallenged.”

In December of 2001, Mayor Daley and Governor Ryan announced an agreement settling the long-standing dispute surrounding Meigs Field’s fate, agreeing to keep the airport open 24 years, unless the Illinois Legislature enacted a law earlier (after 2006) to allow its closure. Yet, on Sunday night, the City of Chicago used bulldozers to carve up Meigs’ runway without notice to anyone, including the public, the Governor of Illinois, the FAA, IDOT, the employees at the airport, or even the pilots of 16 aircraft left stranded on the tarmac. The City cited nonspecific “homeland security” threats for the closure, even though the action would not eliminate the purported threat of aerial attack and actually threatens public safety in numerous ways.

“The move shocked the nation,” said Goodstein, “now that we’ve got a chance to catch our breath, we are moving to stop this travesty.” The suit, asking for an emergency temporary restraining order, was filed by Stephen Novack, Karen Levine, and Richard Miller of Novack and Macey, on behalf of numerous clients, including the Friends of Meigs Field.

Wide Variety of Plaintiffs

The initial Plaintiffs in the suit also include individual taxpayers, aeromedical transport professionals, air traffic controllers, and volunteers in the Young Eagles first flight program at Meigs Field.

Claims include that the closure endangers public safety by threatening air traffic, critical care medical patients, and disaster planning for bio-terrorist attacks.

Dramatic Audio Tape of a Life Saved This Week by Meigs

At the press conference announcing the suit, the Friends of Meigs Field played an audio tape recording of an incident only two days earlier, in which the air traffic controllers at Meigs Field played a crucial role in averting a mid-air collision between two aircraft in the downtown airspace. The dramatic sound track recounts the exchange between the tower controller and a pilot on a collision course with an opposite-direction aircraft at the same altitude.

It is very possible that only a last-second dive commanded by the radar-equipped controller kept the two aircraft from colliding. The pilot is heard after the incident thanking the controller for "saving his life.”

(Note: Neither aircraft took off nor landed at Meigs Field, whose runway was already bulldozed. These types of flights are called “overflights” and typically exceed the number of flights landing at Meigs, particularly on good weather days. These flights will continue whether Meigs Field exists or not. It is the role of the Meigs Field control tower to provide traffic advisories to aircraft within a 9-mile circle of airspace over downtown Chicago. Eliminating Meigs Field would endanger these pilots and their passengers needlessly.)

Other Initiatives Under Way to Save Meigs Field

The Friends of Meigs Field also presented materials documenting a wide variety of organizations that have been galvanized into action by the City’s precipitous and illegal closure of the airport.

  • Wednesday, a group of 6 leading national aviation groups, representing over half a million individuals and 8,000 corporations, joined in a strongly-worded letter to President Bush asking for federal intervention. (Available online at www.nbaa.org, www.eaa.org, www.aopa.org, www.nataonline.org, www.generalaviation.org, and www.rotor.com)
  • Thursday, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association announced a 12-element plan to fight to reopen Meigs Field, including legal and legislative initiatives, as well as an advertising campaign in Chicago media. (see www.aopa.org)
  • Thursday, the Illinois Association of Air and Critical Care Transport, representing aeromedical transport professionals across the state, issued a strongly worded statement saying it was “stunned” over the “implications on critical patient transport” to area hospitals.
  • Thursday, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club had published in the Chicago Tribune an op-ed article decrying the Mayor’s reneging on the 2001 agreement with Gov. Ryan to expand airport capacity, and saying that the Mayor’s decision “does severe harm” to the relations between the business community and local government.
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association In Chicago 

On Friday, Phil Boyer, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the world’s largest civil aviation organization with more than 390,000 members was in Chicago making media appearances in defense of Meigs Field and presenting AOPA’s airport defense plan. [ANN thanks AOPA's irrepressible Warren Morningstar for his (as usual) invaluable help in preparing this story. You rock, Warren]. 

FMI: www.friendsofmeigs.org

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