July 27, 2008

They’Ll Decide Where to Put Next Sea-Tac

By Joseph Turner, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.

Jul. 27--Where will the next Sea-Tac Airport be built?

At Paine Field outside Mukilteo? In the desertlike flatlands near Moses Lake in Eastern Washington? How about in the Tanwax-Lacamas community in south Pierce County?

All three of those sites were under consideration in the early 1990s when Puget Sound officials were looking for capacity to handle the growing passenger and freight traffic at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Those officials opted instead to build a third runway at Sea-Tac, which finally will be available for takeoffs and landings in November.

But the search for the next major airport in Washington -- or at least Sea-Tac's little sister -- is under way again. And this time it won't be just another runway at Sea-Tac, said state Sen. Karen Keiser, a Kent Democrat who represents many of the communities under the airport's flight path.

"It has to be somewhere else," Keiser said. "There's no more room at Sea-Tac."

The Puget Sound Regional Council, made up of city and county officials in Pierce, King, Kitsap and Snohomish counties, voted to put an all-weather runway at Sea-Tac. Keiser said the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) pressures on local leaders were too intense to leave the next such decision in the hands of a regional group. She sponsored a law that took effect in 2005 and put state officials in charge of siting the next major airport.

The state is now two years into a three-year process that is laying the foundation for that project. Experts are telling the state Department of Transportation that Sea-Tac will reach capacity by 2024, and smaller airports that handle cargo and passenger service or general aviation also are running out of parking spaces or are threatened by encroachment from other developments.

The 10-member Aviation Planning Council has been meeting since November 2007 to review consultant reports that inventoried the state's airport facilities and needs and capacity. The council held open houses for public feedback last week in Mukilteo and Wenatchee. More open houses are expected to be held later.


The council has a July 2009 deadline to make recommendations to the governor and Legislature "regarding the placement of future commercial and general aviation airport facilities designed to meet the need for improved aviation planning in the region," according the law that created the council.

Washington Transportation Commissioner Carol Moser, chairwoman of the planning council, said the recommendations from the council might not be site-specific, but rather indicate only which parts of the state are in need of more airport capacity.

Moreover, the date by which Sea-Tac could reach capacity has become more of a moving target because of spikes in jet fuel prices and subsequent cutbacks by airlines on the number of flights they offer.

"The airline industry is in a world of hurt," Moser said. "Who knows what's going to happen."


Nonetheless, the council will begin work on its siting recommendations this fall.

"We aren't looking to establish another Sea-Tac," said Penni Loomis, airport manager for Deer Park Municipal Airport near Spokane and a planning council member. "It would be more like establishing a sister (airport). Again, that will be part of the process."

Keiser said an airport is a double-edged sword. While it's a catalyst for jobs and economic development, it also carries the burden of sometimes excessive noise.

"I certainly have empathy for any community dealing with this situation," Keiser said. "I would not be surprised to see legislation in the next session trying to stop any (airport) development in Snohomish County."

That's because Paine Field has been mentioned often as a possible regional airport for passenger and cargo service. Mukilteo residents are resisting that possibility. Nearby Everett, however, is supportive of an airport expansion at Paine.

Because it's so difficult to site new airports, Moser said, "I don't think we can afford to lose a single airport in the state right now."

Joseph Turner: 360-786-1826

--The Aviation Planning Council has developed a list of proposed policies that would govern airport capacity, nearby land uses and economic development. That information can be found at www.wsdot.wa.gov/aviation under the Long-term Air Transportation Study.


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