Northerly Island nature preserve toured by Emanuel, Durbin

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just over 12 years after his predecessor destroyed Chicago's downtown airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is celebrating the soon-to-be-opened nature preserve on Northerly Island, and took some reporters on a tour Tuesday.

The mayor and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin toured the island's southern end now restored to look much as it did before the city was developed.

The views connect the lakefront past to its present.

"You get to see Chicago, kind of iconic Chicago, and yet you're in a nature preserve," Emanuel said. "Birds are flying, fish are spawning, in a nature preserve downtown."

It's the same 40 acres once occupied by Meigs Field, the commuter airport destroyed in a 2003 midnight raid ordered by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Army Corps of Engineers dug a pond in the island's middle and used the excavated earth to build hills.

"We did not bring any earth on and we did not take any earth off," said Lt. Colonel Kevin Lovell, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The restoration's price tag to date is $9.5 million, about two-thirds of it federal money.

Mayor Emanuel and Senator Durbin were asked if in retrospect Daley's unauthorized, legally-questioned destruction of Meigs Field worth it in the long-term.

"In retrospect, it was the right thing to do, but just doing that was not good enough. Building on that and then doing this I think the heads and tails of the two sides of the coin that go together," Emanuel said.

"Now, it's something that's going to be shared by an awful lot of people. So the net result of it: positive," Durbin said.

A new one-mile trail along the island's edge will open next month, but no exact date for that opening was given.
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