Senator derides Meigs arrogance
Oklahoma's Inhofe says he's `ashamed of Chicago';
[West Final Edition]
John McCormick, Tribune staff reporter
Tribune staff reporter Brett McNeil contributed to this report.
Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.:
Mayor Richard Daley's decision to close Meigs Field remained
under fire Monday as a national association of pilots filed a federal lawsuit
and an influential U.S. senator called the nighttime destruction of its runway
"an act of arrogant recklessness."
Prior to a public hearing in Chicago, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe
(R- Okla.), chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, was vague
when asked if Daley's actions would hurt Chicago's efforts to win federal road
and bridge money.
"Tearing up a runway is destroying infrastructure," said
Inhofe, a pilot who has used Meigs. "It's just awfully difficult to come and
find out ... that several million dollars of infrastructure was destroyed."
Later, Inhofe said Daley's actions were "reminiscent of the
1920s" and that he was "a little bit ashamed of Chicago right now," as he
prepared to listen to testimony from transportation, business and labor leaders
gathered in the Dirksen Federal Building.
In U.S. District Court in Chicago, the Aircraft Owners and
Pilots Association filed a lawsuit accusing the city of violating federal
regulations by failing to give at least 30-days' notice before closing the
lakefront airport's runway.
Besides the city, the lawsuit names the Chicago Park District,
which owns the land where the airport has been located for 55 years.
The federal lawsuit charges there was no compelling reason for
Chicago to close Meigs without giving notice to the FAA and pilots, especially
since the city had won a temporary flight restriction over downtown.
"Aircraft utilizing Meigs Field pose no threat to the greater
Chicagoland area, and certainly no greater threat than aircraft in transit to
and from O'Hare and Midway," the lawsuit states.
The pilots' association has also urged its nearly 400,000
members to boycott Chicago and avoid taking flights through the city. It also
called for a freeze on federal airport funding for O'Hare and Midway until Meigs
The federal lawsuit is similar to one filed Friday by an
advocacy group, Friends of Meigs Field, which contends the city failed to
provide proper notice to the Illinois Department of Transportation before
closing the runway.
On Friday, a Cook County judge ordered the city to preserve
the taxiway, terminal building and other components that make up the airport
until he hears arguments on whether the city's actions were legal.
A court hearing is set for mid-May, although city officials
say they plan to file a motion this week to have the case dismissed.
Daley ordered the runway destroyed last week, citing concerns
that a small-plane pilot could use the airport to launch a terrorist attack on
the city's downtown. He and park officials are also interested in building a
"natural area" park on the site.
Responding to the federal lawsuit, a city Law Department
spokeswoman said the FAA notice requirement doesn't apply because there are
exemptions for cases involving public safety or unreasonable hardship.
Calling it "an example of democracy in Chicago," U.S. Sen.
Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) said he was disappointed to see Meigs closed but added
that the mayor was within his authority to do what he did.
"I don't see a whole lot that I'm in the position to do about
it," said Fitzgerald, who asked Inhofe to hold the Chicago hearing. "I would
hope that the closure of Meigs Field would not prejudice Illinois or Chicago
requests for funding."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a Daley ally who
unsuccessfully tried to guide legislation for the expansion of O'Hare through
the Senate, said he didn't know whether the Meigs closing would hurt Chicago's
ability to win federal money.
Durbin staff members, however, said Meigs likely would still
be open if the O'Hare expansion bill that Fitzgerald opposed had passed.
Construction of a south suburban airport and keeping Meigs
open until at least 2006, and possibly through 2026, were two factors that led
to the O'Hare runway deal between Daley and then-Gov. George Ryan in 2001.
Another member of the state's congressional delegation played
down Inhofe's comments about Meigs and backed Daley's decision.
"Hopefully Sen. Inhofe will decide it's closed and there's
nothing he can do about it," said Rep. Bill Lipinski, (D-Ill.), a senior member
of the House Transportation Committee. "Meigs Field certainly wasn't the biggest
cog for aviation in the state of Illinois."
[Illustration] PHOTO; Caption: PHOTO (color): U.S. Sen. James
Inhofe (R-Okla.), along with Illinois' U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (right),
discusses area transit needs Monday. Tribune photo by James F. Quinn.