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New airport legislation proposes holistic solution for expanding air service in Puget Sound.

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

by Kirk Kirkland

Barn swallow photo by Jerry Broadus

The hardest thing to do after people have been involved in a successful protest is to lay down their signs and recognize that the legislators have heard their message. After months of focusing strong feelings about this issue, attending meetings, writing e-mails and participating in lobby day, it is hard to communicate to activists at the front lines of this effort that this threat to their homes and property is over.

We've known for two weeks that the airport couldn't be build in Pierce or Thurston County. The state's proposal violates Federal law which protects Fort Lewis from large development near its borders. At a meeting of more than 500 people at Graham High School, I used maps and a power point to show why selecting these airport greenfields was an error.

State Representative Jake Fey, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, attended this meeting and said that he had concerns about the selection process. He promised to change the selection process in new legislation HB2791, which was proposed February 7.

The underlying problem is that many of the residents in the selected areas have lost their trust in government and have no experience with seeing an issue they protested get better. Some cite their protest against the Pierce County Dump near Graham. Driving by this pile of garbage is a reminder of the deaf ear that government previously turned toward their concerns.

Does this new legislation protect their property?

The fear of losing their property has traumatized many people and rightly so. They deserve a direct answer.

I sent information and maps to Jake Fey early in the process outlining the military boundary and the airfield's overlap. So when he revised the legislation he asked me to send in suggestions about the exact wording of the legislation and other concerns.

This legislation is a game changer

The new proposed legislation is a complete reversal of the former process. It is a major shift away from the Airport Commission that was given authority to make a politically based decision and then select three airport greenfields.

This legislation forms an Airport Workgroup to collect information and make an information based decision, then recommend a solution that increases passenger capacity at SEATAC.

Two environmental activists and one individual from the local communities will become voting members on the new airport workgroup. And their mission now is to look at a holistic solution of using satellite airports and maybe expanding existing airports, while also following stricter environmental requirements when examining a possible airport greenfield. Included in this solution is a coordinated look at ground transportation from trains and buses and highways to move 27 million more people a year.

To people who fear losing their homes, it's not a guarantee in writing that Thurston and Pierce counties won't be selected. That answer is written between the lines that prohibit a new airport greenfield in a county with a military installation. There are only two counties quite like this.

Another change in this revised process includes evaluating environmental issues, which will protect farm areas from being used by a new regional plan for an airport. This new airport workgroup is about collecting information, making evaluations, and providing recommendations. This is different -- no longer a club of airport promoters. It's a workgroup where different possibilities will be considered and everyone has a say in the ultimate solution. Local communities have a vote.

This legislation is how Jake Fey, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, works with his committee. On Friday, January 13th when speaking at Graham High School, he said, "You heard about that mess back in Washington DC. Well that's not what we do in Washington state. Here we work together."

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