#4. Intentions


No one works for the Port beyond a certain level without actually –believing- in the mission. If you ever wonder “How can Commissioner X sleep at night?” Because they –believe- in the Port’s Mission. They are –not- ‘evil’. Their goal is to benefit King County and the State Of Washington. They –really- believe this sincerely and not recognizing that fact is, in my opinion, the single biggest mistake that residents make.

At the first SAMP Community Meeting in Burien, Lance Lyttle showed various graphs illustrating attributes of King County. WATCH THESE CLOSELY! The Port is constantly focusing attention on the benefits to “King County” or “Washington” and very rarely to specific cities (like ours). In short, they almost always show you AVERAGES. On –average- the Port benefits every KC resident $XXXX per year. The –average- education of KC residents is… The –average- number of people in KC making > $100k per annum is… They do this because “on average” King County is doing FANTASTIC as a result of the airport.

I made these examples to explain the –Intention- of people who work for the Port and why they treat us with such an apparent lack of humanity. It is critical that you understand this because unless you understand –why- they act this way, it is almost impossible to fight back. And this is the last bit of Sleight Of Hand.

People who work in management at the Port Of Seattle believe in those ‘averages’. By that I mean that they believe in tending to ‘the greater good’. They not only –believe-, but can –prove-, that SeaTac Airport provides “on average“ a tremendous series of benefits to the overwhelming majority of KC residents. Using their thought process? I –also- agree. In fact, taken from that starting point no one who can read a chart can DIS-agree.

Their argument is that, by concentrating the impacts of SeaTac Airport within as narrow a band of geography as possible and to a tiny percentage of population, the airport can provide a huuuge and overwhelming range of benefits to the remainder of King County and Washington State. The disparity between the impacted area (us) and the benefitted areas is so great in fact that there is no other rational choice than to continue on the course we’re on. That’s the argument.

(For example, siting an airport somewhere else in the region is stupid because why should they sicken –more- people in another area when we can keep all the tax money –here-!) There –is- a moral logic to it.

TANGENT: One often overlooked aspect of this strategy is that it aligns –very- nicely with the FAA’s NextGen program. A major goal of NextGen is to concentrate flight paths and this only makes the rest of King County happy because it further narrows the footprint of impacts onto a smaller area than would otherwise be the case. As the flight paths become more and more concentrated, there is less impetus for nearby communities to actively oppose the Port’s expansion. This makes it almost impossible for the airport communities to count on other cities for political support.

Now you may well understand the morality of all this from 30,000 feet. I definitely do. But I’ll bet it doesn’t -feel- very moral to you living near the airport, right? But look, let’s say I was talking about a coal mine. Most of us totally understand why it –might- be a good idea to close the mine and put a thousand miners out of work in order to save the rest of the planet from climate change. The needs of the many outweighing the needs of a few. People who govern –have- to think about ‘the big picture’.

And that’s my point: The people who run the Port are paid to think in terms of that big picture. Your odds of reaching them by screaming “I’d like you to see what it’s like on my deck!” are about zero. Trust me, they –have- been on your deck. And I can assure you that the experience did not affect them a whit in the same way that I can visit a coal mining town, be -really- sympathetic to what a shut down might do to those families, but stlll close down the mine. From their POV they –are- doing the ‘right’ thing by expanding the airport. In fact, using the above logic, it makes sense to expand the airport ASAP! We need airports! We want to limit their impacts! So expand the airport NOW and limit the damage to as small an area as possible. That’s the calculus. Their intentions are, for the vast majority of their constituents, completely worthy.

And the Coal Mine analogy also helps explain why siting another airport is so difficult. Other cities don’t want to help because, duuuuuuhhhhh, THEY DO NOT WANT AN AIRPORT IN THEIR TOWN! They see what happened at SeaTac. They –clearly- understand that the benefits to the people living near the airport will neeeeeeeeeever outweigh the harms. Think about that: if it were a prison or a garbage dump or even a nuclear power plant you’d likely find other cities BEGGING to be considered. But an airport? Fawgedaboudit.

MYTH: If only the voters knew what was –really- going on, they wouldn’t stand for the suffering residents endure under the airport. This is ridiculous. The voters of Washington State –like- this situation, informed or not. There is a –reason- the Port has been structured like this–to limit the damage! The rest of the State wouldn’t vote to change things AT ALL no matter how well informed they were. Because again, taken as an “on average”? The airport is a fabulous thing for the rest of the County and State. There is nothing in it for voters outside of 4 or 5 tiny cities to change the status quo and you need to accept this.


So you can’t expect to appeal to the voters’ sense of morality either. Their moral calculus matches that of the Port Commission: a few people get screwed so that the majority of us can be greatly benefited. It’s sad, but that’s life. And if you don’t like it? Hey… move. 😉

The Port manages the airport a lot like a coal mine. It’s goals are: efficiency and containment. The airport is a tremendous money maker for the entire region. It has a certain number of problems, but those can best be managed by keeping the impacts to as narrow an area as possible. Arguably, they have achieved their goals of profitability and impact containment better than any other airport in America.

The FAA’s NextGen program works well with this strategy by further concentrating the impacts within that area and thus –saving- the rest of the region from the negative effects.

The rest of the region supports the Port because taken as a whole, they see that the Port is behaving in a rational manner: we –must- have airports, SeaTac –is- the airport, so let’s keep cramming as many operations as we can into that small footprint and avoid causing problems for the rest of the State. So they will not support anything that damages the revenues from the Port –or- spreads the impact to other communities.

The people who work at the Port –believe- in their mission—in every sense of the word. They cannot be reached by moral arguments (‘evil’ or ‘shame’) because you cannot work for the Port without believing that your efforts are, on the whole, -good- for the region. This is the big mistake that most residents make: not understanding that the Port really believes they are the good guys because THEY ARE DOING WHAT THE VOTERS WANT. And to a large extent? I agree with them.

So who –are- the bad guys?

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