DALEY CITES PUBLIC SAFETY FOR DESTROYING MEIGS RUNWAY, CLOSING AIRPORT
March 31, 2003 - Under cover of darkness in the early morning hours Monday, Chicago's lakefront airport Meigs Field was closed after city construction crews carved a series of large, X-shaped portions of concrete out of the runway. After the airport closed operations at 10 p.m. Sunday, with no notice to the tower and only short notice to the airport-based fire department, a police-escorted caravan of heavy equipment made its way onto 18-36 and at about 11 p.m., started the covert operation.
During a late-Monday morning press conference at City Hall Daley says he tore up Meigs Field for public safety's sake and to spare citizens "months and maybe years" of contentious debate. "We have done this to protect the millions of people who live, work and visit downtown Chicago in these uncertain times," the mayor said. "The safety of the entire city has to take precedence over the wishes of a handful of private pilots and business people." Daley admitted the city knew of no specific terror threats involving a private aircraft. The truth is Daley has been trying to close the lakefront airport for years, last year's deal to keep Meigs open for 25 years notwithstanding.
"The nature of the actions taken by the city under the cover of darkness indicates that there was not public support for this action," EAA President Tom Poberezny said. "We will continue to work with the Friends of Meigs Field and others in trying to save the airport. All options will be quickly investigated."
President of the Friends of Meigs Field Rachel Goodstein wasn't buying the mayor's spurious public safety mantra, either. "During WWII, Franklin Roosevelt said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, and the mayor proved that today," she said, speaking in front of reporters at city hall shortly after the mayor's conference concluded. "Businesses, pilots, and many non-flying citizens-people are really outraged by what the mayor did. To come in the middle of the night and do this…the only reason was to prevent a lawsuit from being filed, what he virtually admitted."
Goodstein was equally appalled that nobody-not the FAA, U.S. or Illinois departments of transportation, not even the Meigs tower knew of the plans to destroy the runway.
"This was a fear-mongering land-grab, plain and simple," Goodstein said. "The city is much safer with a towered airport monitoring all air traffic. The fire department is now 10 miles further away which makes boaters less safe. Children with emergency medical situations are less safe. This was a shortsighted decision. The mayor is taking advantage of fear to get something done he always wanted."
Also speaking at the FOM conference was Bev Dunjill, President of the Tuskegee Airmen's DOD chapter based at Meigs Field. Dunjill, a veteran pilot of World War II and Korea, spoke on behalf of EAA's Young Eagles program, which has contributed more than 6,000 names to the world's largest logbook. The overwhelming majority of the kids flown were inner-city kids, which provided them with a structured and fun introduction to the world of flight, but now their ability to experience flight has taken a huge blow, he said.
"Throughout the years, Meigs Field has proven its value, both from an economic standpoint and as well as from a social standpoint," Poberezny added. "Thousands of kids have enjoyed EAA Young Eagles flights there. Numerous organizations and hundreds of volunteers have worked diligently on behalf of the airport."
"The city did this with a vengeance," Goodstein said. "If this (Meigs) was a national security issue, they could block the runway with trucks. We all know this is not a national security issue." This appalling action trapped 16 aircraft and it is not immediately know how they will escape.
A local Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) about the airport closing reads: Chicago IL (Merrill C Meigs) [CGX]: March NOTAM #6 Airport closed will be effective March 31st, 2003 at 06:00 AM CST (0303311200).
EAA's Legal Advisory Counsel is exploring legal options, and EAA will provide updated information as it becomes available.
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