A Letter To Mayor Jimmy Matta re. Port Package Problems

I’m often asked why I’m so gung ho about legislative action as opposed to working through issues via the SAMP (Sustainable Airport Master Plan). My flip answer is “If the Port wants me to do it? I’m immediately skeptical.” And the Port wants to drive all community issues through the SAMP. But the substantive reason is this: The SAMP is a one-time framework. If the communities choose to work solely through the SAMP, any issues not addressed through the SAMP will almost certainly never be addressed. The Port Of Seattle, like any smart litigator wants a singular, clean settlement. They do not like the idea that the communities might be able to change the intrinsic relationship to which we have all grown accustomed–one where there is no negotiation on any issues. Our goal must be to establish a pattern of collective bargaining with the Port Of Seattle on a regular basis for improved conditions without having to wait for triggers such as new construction plans. And that means learning to legislate for change.

Your Honor,

Following up on my Public Comment last night. As I said, I have gathered signatures from a good number of homeowners in Des Moines and SeaTac who have experienced damage to their houses as a result of their ‘Port Packages’. This includes a variety of problems that I won’t go into here but for now let’s just say that it extends far beyond ‘windows’ to the very notion of what makes for a healthy home. These packages were installed in a time before the science on making homes air-tight was fully-baked and that led to many of these unintended consequences–which the Port Of Seattle freely acknowledges in open hearings.

Section 3 of your recent Ordinance #407 addresses these problems directly by encouraging efforts to rescind State RCW 53.54.030 which limits the Port Of Seattle to a one-time-only payment in exchange for their Avigation Easement.

I’m asking that you take the necessary actions in order to help to make Section 3 a reality.

I would like the City Of Burien to begin work with your legal team, your lobbyist, your State Senators and Representatives to craft this as actual legislation.

I believe that with the  evidence I have gathered it will provide a compelling case for lawmakers that the one-time payment is intrinsically unfair for several reasons:

1. Because the goods and services provided had an unreasonable rate of failure.

2. Because the ten year warranty was simply unreasonable given the onerous care requirements, the often poor quality of workmanship and materials, and the lack of understanding at the time as to the effects of tightly sealing a house in this manner.

3. Because the replacement cost of the windows currentlly can cost over $75,000 and further that the damage to the remainder of the house might exceed the means of almost any homeowner and is not covered by insurance.

4. Because when the Port Packages fail they cause various health risks to the occupants from mold.

5. Because even when working properly in the best case the benefit the Port Package provides has not kept up with the increase in annoyance due to the tremendous increase in the number of daily operations.

I would also be more than happy to offer assistance in obtaining statements from affected homes in your area. All my current names are near me because, frankly, the way most people have responded to my inquiry has been through door to door canvassing.

The point is that there are prox. 9,400 homes with Port Packages and I’ve been able to identify over 150 with problems simply by canvassing nearby homes. Basically, anywhere there are homes with Port Packages, there are homes with problem Port Packages. So en toto we’re talking millions of dollars in property damage to residents of the airport communities. That’s real damage, not something one can argue over like ‘decibels’ or ‘particulates’.

Why this matters

There are two big reasons:

First, I believe that as a community, we have to demonstrate that we can actually change our relationship under the law with the Port Of Seattle without going to court. Many people simply do not believe that the cities can ever win.

Second, this is a small first step. If we can do something like this, then perhaps we can change other laws at the State level. And again, that avoids going to court or waiting for the next ‘SAMP’. It’s just a healthier way to govern if we can slowly, one bit at a time, get out from under the Port’s thumb.

Finally, it’s basic fairness. These Port Packages are a real kick in the nuts to the average homeowner who, in most cases now, isn’t even the person who signed the original Avigation Easement. When the windows start to rust or crack they’re left holding the bag on tens of thousands of dollars of unanticipated costs. When their kid starts to get asthma they don’t realize that it was probably mold that is in the walls–until the home inspector gives them the $2,200 bill for remediation. Meanwhile? The airlines keep flying overhead and never have to even think about it. It’s simply not right and I’m pretty sure that most lawmakers who understand how typical land use easements work will be sympathetic to this. In one sentence: the Port is getting a lifetime benefit in exchange for a one-time payment. And that one-time payment often gets the homeowner a lot more than they bargained for.

Please let me know what you think and what I can do to help get this boat in the water.


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