Mukilteo will appeal commercial flights decision
MUKILTEO - The Mukilteo City Council voted last week to appeal the federal environmental review of adding commercial flights at Paine Field and is asking other cities to join the fight.
The vote was unanimous.
The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month released its environmental assessment and determined the addition of commercial flights wouldn’t increase pollution, noise and traffic near the airport. The report clears the path for commercial service at the general aviation airport that borders Mukilteo.
Officials in Mukilteo have long argued the opposite in addition to the impact commercial flights will have on Boeing, which uses the airport for test flights.
“Boeing drives our economy in Snohomish County,” Mayor Joe Marine said, calling the region the envy of the world by having a major manufacturer at their doorstep.
“Why aren’t we trying to expand aerospace?” Marine said.
If jobs is the argument, Marine said, “The FAA says it’ll have 17 jobs — yeah, that’s like opening a McDonald’s,” Marine said.
The appeal will argue the FAA needs to do a full environmental impact statement, Marine said.
The city has built up a legal fund of $125,000 for fighting the FAA in federal court and retained aviation law expert Barbara Lichman.
“We’ve got the money” to fight this, Marine said last week.
Marine has contacted cities on record as opposed to commercial flights including Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace to join Mukilteo’s filing. He’ll have answers from those cities when each city council votes on the idea at the start of the year.
Even with Mukilteo’s appeal, it will be several months before commercial flights can take off from Paine Field. Snohomish County, which owns the airport, is just beginning its environmental review.
The county must also determine who pays for a $3 million passenger terminal.
Peter Camp, a Snohomish County deputy executive, gave the County Council an update earlier this month. Camp oversees the airport.
Allegiant Air told Camp it still wants to fly out of Paine Field. Alaska Airlines, which originally expressed intent to fly out of Paine through subsidiary Horizon, told Camp it wants to start service there if another airline does. The two airlines’ word is good enough to confirm intent to fly and move forward in the process, Camp said.
Camp said no other airline has asked to fly out of Paine Field. FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer confirmed no other airline has expressed interest.
Camp will be asking the County Council later this month to hire a consultant to help work on the county’s environmental review.
The county’s environmental review would go through a public process similar to the FAA’s. The FAA review took years to complete.
Camp couldn’t say if the county’s review could trump the federal review.
“That’s a good question,” he said.
Who will build a terminal?
In order to support commercial service, the FAA is requiring the county to build a 30,000 square foot, two-gate terminal to handle 225 passengers.
It is up to the County Council to approve a terminal, but it is legally possible for the council to refuse to build one, Camp said.
The terminal was estimated to cost $3 million, but the money wouldn’t come from taxpayer dollars, Camp said last week. If the airport pays for the terminal, funding would come from the airport’s self-generated enterprise fund, he said. The airport’s money would be reimbursed through commercial revenue from parking fees and other sources.
The federal government could chip in $200,000 in grants, Camp said, but that’s a fraction of the total construction cost.
Camp declined to say how much revenue commercial flights would bring to Paine Field. The county still must negotiate fees and charges with both airlines for them to operate at Paine Field before any estimate can be released publicly, Camp said.
“My goal at the end of the day is for taxpayers to not face financial risk,” Camp said.
County Council members repeatedly have said they don’t want taxpayers to foot the bill for building a terminal.
The county hired a design firm to draw up a terminal in 2009, but that’s just a conceptual design, Camp said. “It’s nothing we could go build from,” he said.
In 2008, Allegiant proposed starting with two flights a week to Las Vegas using MD-83 jets. Horizon, now operating under parent company Alaska, proposed six flights a day using Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 regional turboprops.
Critics of the FAA’s environmental review say the scope incorrectly looks at the narrow impacts of those two airlines’ proposals. Critics say any environmental review should look at the cumulative impacts of opening up the airport to passenger service.
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