On December 3, 2004, the City of Chicago filed a 41-page legal brief in response to the FAA’s Notice of Investigation regarding Chicago’s use of airport revenues in connection with its closing of Meigs Field. Although the City admits using the airport revenues in connection with the closure it argues that its use of the funds was proper and justified.
The City argues that 1) its use of the funds are a legitimate capital and operating expense for the Chicago Airport System; 2) it is not prohibited from making such expenditures after closure of an airport; 3) FAA precedent (Denver Stapleton and Austin’s Robert Mueller airport) allows such expenditures; 4) the City is obligated to remove airport structures and remediate the property under its lease with the Park District and under Illinois law; and 5) its post-closure use of airport revenue is consistent with legislative history and public policy. Interestingly, the City’s response does not address the proposed fine for its failure to provide 30-days advance notice of the closure.
I think the City’s fourth argument is definitely its weakest. The City’s obligations under its lease and under state law do not necessarily justify its use of airport revenues, as opposed to revenues from other non-aviation sources, to meet those obligations.
Their best argument may be their reliance on FAA precedent. In both the Denver and Austin cases, substantially greater dollars were involved for work that was clearly beyond the scope of simply removing airport structures and remediating the property. However, the distinction between those two situations and Meigs may be the fact that the FAA was involved in those closures early on, as opposed to Meigs where the FAA learned of the closure the morning after Daley’s pre-dawn raid, and in both cases the airports were being replaced by new airports.
It will be interesting to see how this works out. If the FAA pursues a civil penalty, supporters of Meigs everywhere will take heart. However, rest assured that if that happens, the City of Chicago will not roll over. I have no doubt the City will request a hearing and, if it is unsuccessful at the hearing, will appeal that decision. The saga of Meigs continues… Stay tuned.