The city of Chicago will pay a $33,000 fine, along with the repayment of $1 million in federal airport development grants, to settle claims stemming from the illegal closure and destruction of Meigs Field.
On March 31, 2003, under the cover of darkness, heavy equipment operators acting on the orders of Mayor Richard M. Daley cut large Xs into the runway, rendering it useless. The sudden closure trapped several aircraft based at the airport and sent shock waves through the aviation world. Daley defended the action at first by claiming it was done to protect the Windy City from terrorist attacks, but later admitted no threats had been made.
The FAA imposed the fine on Chicago last year for the city’s failure to give the required 30-day notice of its intent to shut down the airport. Located on Northerly Island, it was on a prime piece of real estate. Over the years, many efforts had been made to close the field and redevelop the land. The FAA determined that the city improperly used some $1.5 million in federal grants and airline ticket taxes earmarked for airport improvements to pay for the demolition of Meigs.
The FAA could have imposed penalties of up to $4.5 million.
The repayment will be done in installments and will come from a “non-aviation fund,” according to City Hall officials.
The city, which spent more than $500,000 fighting the FAA fine before giving in, admits no wrong-doing in the settlement.
“We’re grateful that the FAA held the city’s feet to the fire,” said Steve Whitney, president of Friends of Meigs Field. “Unfortunately, Mayor Daley is sticking the taxpayers with the bill.”
For aviation and Chicago, the settlement is “too little, too late,” added Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association.