Airport expansion a road to ruin

By Paul Archipley | Jan 14, 2010

By Paul Archipley

The hard-working members of the citizen’s organization Save Our Communities and the elected representatives of cities surrounding Paine Field have been leading the fight against commercial expansion at the airport. They need our support.

When the FAA holds its third and final public hearing to accept comments on the draft environmental assessment regarding commercial air service at Paine Field, every citizen who cares about the future of his community should be there. That hearing at Kamiak High School at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, should be standing room only.

Thirty years ago, Snohomish County officials agreed to allow developers to turn industrial-zoned forests into residential neighborhoods, with the promise that they would do everything they could to discourage turning Paine Field into a passenger airport.

Now, after hundreds of thousands of residents have moved in with that understanding, their County Council successors are mouthing the words, but their actions suggest they’re bowing to business interests that want a SeaTac North. Four out of five councilmembers voted to build a terminal for two airlines that want to begin flights here.

They offered the weak excuse that, by building the terminal themselves, they would have better control over airport growth. But building codes, the permitting process and other development regulations would serve the same function, without throwing already scarce tax dollars at the project with the hope that they’ll recoup that money later from the airlines. Besides, if those airlines had to build their own terminal, you can be sure they wouldn’t build more than necessary for their avowed plans.

Recent public hearings have demonstrated how unhappy a large majority of residents are with the direction the council has taken. Speaker after speaker has questioned the dubious environmental process in which bureaucrats have determined measurable levels of noise, pollution, and traffic that are acceptable, no matter what your own eyes, ears, nose, and lungs tell you.

Those who want expansion suggest Snohomish County’s future economic health will be dependent on easy access to commercial passenger service. That argument flies in the face of three decades of development of mostly middle class and affluent communities, complete with high-end jobs, the kinds of neighborhoods that drew people precisely because they engender quality lifestyles.

Proponents know that a handful of flights to and from Spokane, Portland or Las Vegas will not make a significant difference in the local economy. For that to happen, they’d have to open the door to lots of airlines offering lots of flights to lots of destinations.

And, contrary to their twisted logic, the result will not be a strong economy, but a struggling one, with once-vibrant communities reduced to low-income, high crime neighborhoods, lower property taxes turning strong school districts and city governments into basket cases, and high-wage industries like Boeing fleeing for better communities that haven’t been ruined by short-sighted decision-makers.

Businesspeople are flying less, not more. A combination of tighter budgets and technological advances has generated “face-to-face” videoconferences. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other Internet advances mean your salespeople can maintain close contact with their customers and be home for dinner. And it won’t be long before Sound Transit has light rail extending all the way to Snohomish County for easy trips to and from SeaTac.

Those Snohomish County residents who complain they’re tired of driving to SeaTac are the most annoying of the bunch. Move already. There are plenty of low-cost houses around that airport.

Just remember why those homes are inexpensive. Don’t wish that future on the rest of us.

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