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Wed, Dec 31, 2003

ANN's 2003 Stories of the Year #2: Daley Sucks!

It Starts: Fear And Loathing In Chicago

It was a slap in the face to all of general aviation -- the stealth destruction of the runway at Chicago's venerable Meigs Field. It happened in the early hours of March 31st.

Chicago's rabidly anti-GA Mayor, Richard M Daley held a brief news conference Monday afternoon, to explain why he apparently sent heavy equipment to Meigs Field late Sunday night. The Chicago Tribune's Casey Bukro said in its morning edition, "Meigs Field, the city's lakefront airport, was closed early today after construction vehicles showed up overnight and dug up large portions of the runway. At dawn, the view from the top of the Adler Planetarium showed a series of large, X-shaped portions of concrete carved out of the runway's center. Large, illuminated 'X' signs marked either end of the runway. Sixteen aircraft appeared stranded, parked along a taxiway and unable to take off."

The destruction of Meigs ignited a fire storm among GA enthusiasts. At first, Daley said he was concerned about the terror threat a GA aircraft in the pattern at Meigs might pose to downtown Chicago. But it wasn't long before Chicago's general media caught on to the real purpose of his midnight bulldozer raid:

The Sun-Times points out the brazen nature of Chicago's ruler: "On Tuesday, the mayor changed his tune. Daley dropped all pretenses about fears of a private plane flying into a Chicago skyscraper and acknowledged his real motive was to create more open space as envisioned by planner Daniel Burnham and others some 100 years ago. [The Sun-Times doesn't mention the consideration Burnham may have given aviation, a hundred years ago... --ed.] 'That's what makes Chicago unique from the rest of the world: that we have protected this wonderful lakefront. That's the greatest asset we have here,' Daley said.

Nobody is safe from rapacious appetite:

Daley continued in the Sun-Times piece, "'From the Calumet River on the south to the Evanston border on the north, 'we want to eventually fill in all the way ... for parks and open space,' the mayor said." ...And he'll do anything, including sneak around at night, break contracts and his word, steal public assets, break laws, or endanger aviators, to do it.

Reality: The Trib Wakes Up

In a story also filed in Washington, Chicago Tribune reporter Frank James, aided by Chicago staffer John McCormick, noted, "Ridge `disappointed' at Daley's closing of Meigs Field."

"The World's Greatest Newspaper" said, "In a meeting with reporters, Ridge refused to be drawn into the issue of whether the closing constituted a security issue for the city, but he pointedly added that he always enjoyed flying into the airport... As [Pennsylvania] governor I occasionally used it. It's a beautiful short runway along the lake," he explained, to anyone reading the Tribune, who might not know.

Always a politician first, Ridge told reports who asked if Chicagoans were 'safer' because of the destruction of the airport, he said, "From the mayor's point of view, they are."

There were court appeals in Illinois and Washington (DC), but it seems for the moment, Daley has prevailed. An organization created to save the GA airport was forced by finances to give up the fight:

Ultimately: Friends of Meigs Can't Afford Their Rights

The Friends of Meigs Field tell us that they have decided not to proceed with an appeal to the Illinois State Supreme Court of their case to reopen Meigs Field.

They wrote, "Many people responded to our call for pledges toward the effort, but the total raised in the short amount of time available fell short of the significant sum required (over $100,000) to cover expected legal expenses in the event of a positive ruling by the Court."

But if Meigs is indeed gone forever, its legacy might just save other airports in similar circumstances. As ANN reported in October, the FAA included in its reauthorization bill a clause that would prevent local governments from sneaking in under cover of darkness and closing down airports:

Under the "Meigs Provision," that sort of thing wouldn't be permitted without a stringent FAA review. "The closing of Meigs is one of those things that has really been a terrific problem from all of our standpoint," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said. "The legislation would prevent an airport like that from being converted without other considerations being made."

Under the proposed legislation, local governments would have to give the FAA at least 30 days' notice before shutting down an airport. Failure to comply would cost local governments $10,000 a day for each day the facility remained closed.

FMI: Friends of Meigs: "Storm Trooper Tactics" Close Meigs; Chicago Mayor Gets Green Light To Destroy Meigs; The "Meigs Provision"

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