FAA’s Paine Field decision likely to be appealed

Edmonds, for its part, has contributed financially to the fight against expansion of flights at Paine Field
By Sara Bruestle | Dec 13, 2012

It is likely that Mukilteo will fight the FAA’s decision to allow commercial passenger service at Paine Field. But whether Edmonds will join in the fight remains to be seen.

After nearly three years, the Federal Aviation Administration released its final determination on Dec. 4 that permitting commercial flights at the airport wouldn’t significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution.

It was a decision that many had expected, as the agency’s environmental study of the impacts of adding up to 23 flights per day had reported the same findings: That environmentally there would be “no significant impact.”

The City of Mukilteo has fought commercial air expansion at Paine Field throughout the years-long environmental review process, and Edmonds has lent support, both financially and legislatively.

Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said Mukilteo will likely continue the fight by appealing the FAA’s decision – but that it’s up to the City Council to make that call.

“We believe they had their minds made up even before they started the process,” Marine said. “They pretty much decided it three years ago.”

Following a meeting with the city’s lawyer on Thursday, Marine said he plans to call an executive session with the council within the coming weeks about an appeal. Opponents have 60 days after the FAA ruling to appeal.

An appeal wouldn’t stop commercial service, but it might help limit it or at least get some mitigation for it, Marine said. With a ruling of “no significant impacts,” commercial airlines wouldn’t be required to mitigate their flights.

Marine said the city attorney thinks Mukilteo has a very good case. Now, he said, councilmembers have to decide if they want to spend the dollars to fight it. Mukilteo has set aside a legal fund of more than $150,000 to fight Paine Field expansion.

“We do have a very significant airport here, and I don’t think even the supporters of commercial service at Paine Field would want to see it go completely unchecked and hinder any manufacturing base,” he said.

“Aerospace manufacturing is a huge asset to our region and county, and we’ve got to expand on that. It would be a much better economic driver than commercial flights.”

Edmonds, for its part, has contributed financially to the fight against expansion of flights at Paine Field, but less than Mukilteo, which borders the airport.

And with the financial problems facing Edmonds, how much support the city gives to further fight the expansion remains to be seen.

“My position is that it would be hard for us to get more involved financially than we already are,” Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said. “But that would depend on how the City Council feels about it.”

And the Edmonds council has had its hands full with passing a budget lately, so Paine Field might be on a back burner.

“I haven’t had a councilmember or a citizen call me about the issue,” Earling said.

He notes that an environmental impact statement still needs to pass muster, but doesn’t see much hope for any big changes.

The Edmonds City Council passed a resolution opposing expansion of the airport a few years ago, so the council could pass further resolutions of support.

Save Our Communities, a group that opposes passenger flights at Paine Field, has called on cities to take the fight to court. SOC said the environmental study was too limited, and that it should have considered the possibility of additional flights in the future.

In 2008, Horizon Air and Allegiant Air had asked Snohomish County to allow them to offer commercial passenger service at Paine Field. Horizon, now Alaska Air, has reported that it is no longer interested and would keep its focus on Sea-Tac.

“We believe that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the best airport to serve the people of the Puget Sound area and would prefer to remain there,” said Bobbie Egan spokesperson for Alaska Airlines.

However, if a competitor were to offer commercial service at Paine Field, Alaska would respond by adding flights as well. Egan said the airline would use a full arsenal of airplanes, including the Boeing 737 jet and the Bombardier Q400 turboprop.

That competitor could be Las Vegas-based Allegiant, which continues to express interest in Paine Field.

A spokesperson explained that, while Allegiant is still interested, it has no immediate plans to expand to Snohomish County.

The spokesperson said it would like to start with four flights per week, increasing to about 20 per week over the next five years.

– Pat Ratliff contributed to this story.

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