Meigs' Fate Looks Grim

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State Protection Fails...

Airport supporters fighting to save the historic Meigs Field's in Chicago lost what might be their last battle Saturday as the Illinois legislature passed a state budget bill that included $6.6 billion to modernize O'Hare Airport and no relief for Meigs. Friends of Meigs had been lobbying for weeks to include in the bill wording that would repair Meigs and reopen it, but the bill passed without that amendment. A disheartened FOM President Steve Whitney told AVweb the group plans to investigate congressional lobbying but Whitney admits it's a longshot. "We're getting toward the bottom of the barrel," he said. "We're just going to regroup a little and see what our options are," he said. It also appears that AOPA has thrown in the towel. A May 31 story in the Chicago Sun-Times says AOPA has withdrawn its federal suit against the city over Meigs. There are now no legal barriers to impede Mayor Richard Daley from getting his wish and finishing the destruction he started March 30. Meigs was supposed to be safe until June 4, but a ruling from an Illinois court on Friday changed that. On May 23, after a lower court had upheld the city's right to destroy the airport, the Illinois Appellate Court agreed to an emergency stay on that decision until June 4. For reasons not clear to us, the same court lifted the stay on Friday. On the Friends of Meigs Web site, the group states that it doesn't have the "prospects or resources" to challenge that ruling, so it concentrated on goings-on in the legislature. Early Saturday morning, after a night of political shell games and allegations that some key senators were lobbied into reversing their positive vote on including a Meigs amendment, the legislation was passed by the Senate, without measures to save Meigs, by a margin of 40-19. The House passed the bill later that day, despite last-ditch lobbying by the Friends of Meigs.

...Demolition Could Take Months

So what happens now? In the immediate future ... probably not much. With the courts and the legislature on his side, Daley has all the time in the world to finish the job at Meigs. "We have no plans to do anything anytime soon," said Daley spokesman Roderick Drew. City officials said they would be going out to tender on the project, which would involve removal of all the paved surfaces, demolition of the buildings and control tower and other airport infrastructure. After the rubble is cleared and environmental issues cleared up, the Chicago Park District can begin construction of the park that Daley has always wanted there. Friday, both Friends of Meigs and AOPA considered further legal action but they apparently backed off when a U.S. District Court judge refused to block further demolition and told AOPA it had a "very slim" chance of winning its case. AOPA and FOM were basing their legal challenges on Daley's failure to provide 30 days notice of the airport closure as required by the FAA. FOM also alleged the process leading up to the middle-of-the-night destruction of the runway violated the state's open-meetings law. In the end, all the judges involved ruled that Chicago's Mayor had a right to do what he wanted with facilities Chicago owns.