Daley wins, Meigs fades to a memory

 - August 5, 2008, 11:00 AM

With the final demolition dust settling over what used to be Meigs Field, the question now becomes, “What would keep this from happening elsewhere in the future?” Last month, crews resumed the destruction of Chicago’s idyllic lakefront airport to the dismay of aviation groups, including Friends of Meigs Field and AOPA, which had led the fight to save the long embattled facility. Their opponent, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, began the destruction process with his order to send in bulldozers to tear up the runway in the middle of the night on March 30, without prior notice to anyone, including the FAA regional office, air traffic control, Signature Flight Support (which operated the FBO at Meigs) and the aircraft owners whose airplanes were parked on the ramp.

Now, demolition crews are completing the job, hauling away the remnants of the runway’s pavement and laying down sod in its place to create Northerly Island Park.

After the initial midnight raid on Meigs, lawsuits filed in state and federal court by Friends of Meigs, AOPA and NBAA were successively dismissed as it became clear that Daley’s actions–while almost universally condemned as draconian and ill-advised–were found to be within the letter of the law if not its spirit.

All that now remains in the legal pipeline is a complaint filed by AOPA in connection with an FAA requirement to provide 90 days’ notice before dismantling an airport. Daley had initially cited national security concerns as his justification for ignoring that specific FAA requirement and calling in the bulldozers. Though he was forced later to recant his claim that security concerns justified destroying the airport, the penalty the city faces for breaking the FAA regulation consists of the proverbial slap on the wrist–a relatively small fine.

On Capitol Hill, AOPA is now promoting a “Meigs Legacy” portion of the FAA reauthorization bill. Under that provision, airport sponsors who violate the 90-day notice requirement would face $10,000-per-day fines for their actions. It would put teeth in the FAA’s enforcement capability, which proved to be no deterrent to Daley and his supporters.