Daley unrepentant in face of FAA's (belated) Meigs wrath

 - December 18, 2007, 6:36 AM

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a veteran of the bare-knuckle school of politics, is defiantly defending his destruction of Meigs Field last year despite threats from the FAA to fine the city $33,000 for closing the lakefront airport and another $4.5 million for illegally diverting revenues from O’Hare to pay for closing the downtown airport.

The FAA announced October 1 that it is taking legal action over the March 31, 2003, deactivation of Meigs, when Daley sent heavy equipment under cover of darkness to gouge trenches across the field’s single runway, citing the threat of terrorism as his reason. Daley remains unbowed by the FAA action. “We know we acted properly and legally when we closed Meigs Field last year,” he said. “I don’t think small airplanes should be flying whatsoever in the metropolitan area, especially in the city of Chicago.”

The FAA said the city has 30 days to contest the proposed $33,000 civil penalty, which stems from the city’s failure to provide the FAA the required 30-day notice that it was closing the airport. FAA regulations provide a maximum penalty of $1,100 a day for a violation of this type.

The FAA has also begun an investigation to determine whether the city improperly diverted $1.5 million in restricted airport revenues from Chicago O’Hare to pay for the demolition of the runway at Meigs and for the field’s conversion from an airport to a future city park.

The FAA has held several discussions with city representatives to reach an informal resolution of the issues. The agency said it would now move forward with the formal actions to obtain additional information. In addition to the possible $33,000 fine, the city could be required to return money to the O’Hare Airport Development Fund. Should the city refuse to return any improperly diverted revenue to the fund, further sanctions are possible, including a civil penalty of up to three times the amount of the diverted funds–$4.5 million.