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Meigs Myths

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To the editor:

Thank you for taking a mostly balanced look at the important issue of the future of Meigs Field [Neighborhood News, May 31]. Unfortunately, it appears that even the Mr. Joravsky is prone to give a pass to the misleading information put forward by aviation opponents. Several points:

1. Daniel Burnham did not envision solely "lakefront parks stretching the length of the city." Although the Plan of Chicago was completed well before flight was considered a viable transportation means, it did include commercial transportation on the lakefront in the form of a large intermodal freight (rail/dock) complex, built on landfill in Lake Michigan only a little way north of Meigs Field.

2. Despite significant opportunities before Meigs' construction, there was never a park developed on Northerly Island. Neither during the 5 years preceding nor in the 12 years following the 1933-'34 Century of Progress World's Fair was the land ever deemed accessible enough to make it valuable as park land. This very inaccessibility is exactly why the Park District has already rejected Northerly Island as a permanent festival site.

3. The myth that the airport is "almost unusable for two or three months of the year" is simply untrue. The best indicator of the reliability of the airport is the frequency with which aircraft must divert to other airports because of weather. In a recent one-year period, Great Lakes Aviation/United Express had to divert its scheduled flights to Midway only 5.6 percent of the time. In contrast, a park would go virtually unused from October until April.

4. Though Meigs accounts for a small fraction of Chicago's commercial aviation passengers, it handles a considerable and rising proportion of its general aviation (GA) or noncommercial flights. According to figures from a 1993 city study, Meigs' proportion of the city's GA has risen, from 22.5 percent in 1983 to over 30 percent in 1991, as GA fled O'Hare and Midway for the suburbs. At the same time that suburban GA airports are expanding and upgrading facilities to lure GA business traffic, Chicago is proposing to banish this valuable traffic from downtown, thus hastening the move of business to the suburbs and other cities.

5. The vast majority of Meigs' operations are not state related, but rather to bring business to downtown Chicago. Surveys indicate that 87 percent of arriving flights are visiting Chicago for business or convention purposes, and that over half of Meigs' traffic is based out of state. Flights operated by the state of Illinois account for under 1.5 percent of Meigs traffic.

6. Increasing traffic at Meigs would not require a "major reconstruction plan," but merely better management. Installation of an instrument approach (equipment and procedures to allow operations in bad weather) can be done at minimal cost and with outside funding--the state has developed and offered to pay for one in the past. Extension of Meigs' hours to allow night operations to occur quietly out over the lake--a prudent alternative to forcing them over homes around O'Hare and Midway--would take a mere stroke of the pen.

7. The claim that the airport is a "major source of pollution" to the lake is ridiculous. The relative quantities of potential pollutants are minuscule, especially when compared with other nearby pollution sources. The airport has a comprehensive Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan that complies with all EPA requirements. Last year's reported fuel spillage: "approximately 2 cups"--and on land. Contrast this to thousands of gallons of fuel-laden bilge water leaked directly into the lake from boaters in Burnham and other city harbors.

Fortunately there is an elegant win-win compromise that would benefit all parties: reinventing Meigs Field as the city's "skypark," combining landscaped park and observation areas with an aviation museum to complement the new museum campus while retaining the beauty and vitality of an operating downtown airport adjacent to the business district. It is frustrating that our opposition has not shown the vision to examine this option yet.

Steven G. Whitney

President

Friends of Meigs Field

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