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4/3/03 Civic Committee

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VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (LETTER)
Meigs decision harms city-business relationship

Lester Crown, Chairman, Task Force on Aviation;
R. Eden Martin, President, Civic Committee

Chicago Tribune
Published April 3, 2003


Chicago -- The Civic Committee and its Task Force on Aviation are deeply disappointed by the decision of Mayor Richard Daley to tear up Meigs Field.

Meigs has played an important role in Chicago's economy by allowing easy access by visitors to McCormick Place and to business offices in or adjacent to the downtown area.

On Dec. 5, 2001, Daley and then-Gov. George Ryan reached an agreement with respect to key elements of a plan to protect the aviation future of northern Illinois. The business community had been working for such an agreement for years.

The agreement included the expansion and reconfiguration of runways at O'Hare International Airport, seeking federal funds for construction of a new airport in Peotone.

It also provided that Meigs Field would remain open until Jan. 1, 2026. (It could be closed after Jan. 1, 2006, if the General Assembly so decided.)

Daley now asserts that there was "no agreement whatsoever." But there clearly was an agreement between Daley and Ryan on the key points, including preservation of Meigs.

The mayor and the governor also agreed--with the support of the business community--to seek a federal law assuring that the Daley-Ryan agreement could not be reversed by a future governor or legislature. The aviation pact, however, did not include a proviso that if Congress failed to enact such a law, either party could abandon the agreement.

In any event, it is widely conceded that legislation of the kind sought by the mayor could now be obtained in Springfield.

Daley suggests that his action in tearing up Meigs Field is justified by security considerations. He is certainly correct to be concerned about security. For that reason, the mayor recently obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration a temporary flight restriction area over downtown Chicago. That, however, permits normal flight operations along the lakefront and around Meigs Field. Either the city did not ask for a broader restriction, which would include Meigs Field, or, if it did, the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security did not deem it necessary to bar flights in and out of Meigs.

But even if one were to conclude that the present security situation required cessation of flights in and out of Meigs, the proper remedy would be to close Meigs for the duration of the security problem--not to tear up the runways to render them permanently useless.

Whether or not the Chicago-Illinois agreement to assure Chicago's aviation future is a binding contract, enforceable in court, is not the point. The mayor and the governor entered into this agreement on the entire package--including Meigs--because they believed it was essential to protect the region's aviation future. They were right--and that is what makes the mayor's decision now all the more disappointing.

Chicago is a great city in part because of the history of collaboration between the city's political leadership and the business community. The mayor's unilateral action in closing Meigs does severe harm to that relationship.

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Friends of Meigs Field
P.O. Box 59-7308 , Chicago, IL 60659-7308
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