Meigs Field closing marks 10th anniversary

March 29, 2013 4:22:23 PM PDT
Ten years ago a fleet of bulldozers conducted what amounted to a midnight raid on Chicago's Meigs Airport.

On March 31, 2003, people woke up to find huge "X's" carved in the airport runway.

Mayor Richard Daley then declared the Meigs Field closed.

That piece of land is now called Northerly Island.

It was considered a heavy-handed and illegal move by then Mayor Richard M. Daley to unleash heavy equipment under the cover of darkness to render the one runway unusable, stranding planes and embarrassing the FAA, all in the name of protecting Chicago from terrorism, a little over a year after 9-11.

"The closure of Meigs reduces our risk and perception of risk will make Chicago a safer city," Mayor Daley said at the time.

ABC7 reporter Paul Meinke and others weren't buying it.

"Doesn't good government function best in the light of day? That's why I am here today, that's why I am here today," Meinke said.

Daley's move cost the city $33,000 in fines and $1.5 million federal transportation development dollars that had to be returned to Washington. Steve Whitney, who protested the move in its aftermath, got a call in the middle of the night.

"We were completely shocked it was illegal, it was an abuse of power it was ridiculous," Whitney said. "There were over a dozen planes that were stuck there."

Friends of Meigs Field says a new development balancing natural space needs with Chicago's demand for flight services can be done and there's more than wistfulness over Meigs closure.

"It was done with lies and with cheating, basically illegally in the middle of the night under armed guard that's not the way you do things in a democracy," Whitney said.

Now, the former airport is the site of a prairie grassland slowly returning to its natural state, with a temporary concert venue set to perhaps triple in size. Parks defenders like it, but acknowledge the legacy of how the airport became a park is a discomforting.

"You heard on the news the airport had been closed, that last piece of it was a failure in transparency," said Erma Tranter, President, Friends of the Parks.

The airspace over the city is now actually less-regulated and arguably less safe than it was back when Northerly Island used to be an airport.