Group holds annual meeting with no answer on commercial flights
MUKILTEO - Save Our Communities will be gathering for its annual meeting with a giant question yet to be answered.
Will the Federal Aviation Administration require Paine Field to conduct a detailed environmental impact study before determining whether the general aviation airport can open up to commercial flights?
SOC says it’s ready to fight the FAA if the FAA opts for a less detailed environmental review.
The FAA was originally supposed to declare its decision last June before delaying it to the end of 2011. The FAA said it was poring over hundreds of comments prompted by the initial environmental assessment made public in December 2009.
Two regional spokesmen for the FAA did not return voice mails and e-mails from the Tribune by press time on the current status of the final environmental report, but the county director who’d receive it first said he hasn’t seen it yet.
“We’re still waiting patiently,” Snohomish County executive director Peter Camp said. He doesn’t know when it might arrive, and the FAA hasn’t given any timeline.
Snohomish County owns Paine Field and Camp oversees the airport for the county.
In the meantime, SOC will hold its annual meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.
SOC will talk about future issues for Paine Field, reflect on the past year and elect its officers at the meeting.
The FAA faces local opposition on many fronts. The city of Mukilteo, for example, is on record opposing commercial flights at Paine Field. County Executive Aaron Reardon personally opposes commercial flights as well, Camp said.
Whether public opposition matters is another question.
The FAA is beholden to the airlines, and if airlines want to fly out of Paine Field, the FAA needs to try to accommodate them.
Two airlines, Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines, said they want to fly out of Paine Field. An Allegiant spokeswoman confirmed the company is still interested earlier this month.
“We, as a matter of federal law, can’t say you can’t come,” Camp said last week.
SOC’s vice president Greg Hauth and other SOC members see the environmental study as critical to scuttling commercial flights there.
In 2010 at a series of public meetings held by the FAA, packed crowds hissed at findings in the initial FAA environmental assessment that said adding commercial flights would create no significant impact.
The report was based on a lowball number of initial flights provided by the airlines, when the airlines already said they plan to add more flights at Paine Field over time, opponents said.
The FAA, though, has never done a full environmental study on a regional airport before, Hauth said.
SOC’s opposition is five-fold: public health, noise, road traffic near Paine Field, the questioned economic return of commercial flights and the scheduling impact to Boeing, which is Paine Field’s primary user.
SOC is concerned that bringing commercial flights to Paine Field creates extra noise to nearby residents and traffic to already-congested roads such as 128th Street near Interstate 5. The group also is concerned the county would pick up the tab for improving Paine Field for commercial use without gaining much revenue in return.
“This is a big unfunded mandate,” Hauth said.
The biggest issue may be how scheduled flights would affect the biggest employer for Mukilteo: Boeing.
Hauth calls it the “Boeing crossover point,” where more and more scheduled flights at Paine Field would crowd out Boeing from using Paine Field as much as it needs for research and development use.
“What’s the major economic driver here? It’s Boeing,” Hauth said.
Losing Boeing’s Everett plant because of schedule conflicts at Paine Field, which Hauth thinks is a possibility, would be a massive regional blow. Commercial flights will never generate as much money locally as Boeing’s production revenues, Hauth said.
“If they come out with a finding of no significant impact, that would be a stretch to get there,” Hauth said.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published Jan. 25, 2012