A Letter To Mayor Matt Pina Of Des Moines

I wrote this letter to our mayor on November 2nd. On 8 November I received notice from the City Clerk that I would receive an official reply from the City. I have not heard back. I mention this only vb this to distinguish this letter from the dozens I have received no reply to where I had no expectation of reply. 😀 )

Your Honour,

If you’ll bear with me for a small intro. I grew up on the West Coast of Ireland. My family fished that part of the Atlantic for over 400 years. But in the ’70’s, factory boats were introduced and within 20 years the fishery was destroyed. As part of Ireland joining the EU in ’92, all parties agreed to create a managed fishery. So now there are measurements constantly being taken to ensure that the ocean is doing OK. Also complex quotas are re-negotiated every year to keep the fishermen in business.

However if that catastrophe had been dealt with the way our communities deal with the airport, there would be studies and then a single NEPA/SEPA ruling. Then maybe an appeal or two. And then either one side would ‘win’ or no sides would win. But no way in hell would all sides win.

The residents of the airport communities are now trying to lump all our grievances into the SAMP; not just concerning the Port’s impending construction, but we hope to get the state and federal governments to side with us on complaints going back as far as 2012. It’s an all-or-nothing gamble. And in fact, the Port encourages us to do it that way because that process works to their advantage.

As you have said so many times, The Port isn’t going anywhere and we aren’t going anywhere. So the only sane way forward is to develop an approach similar to the way fisheries (and other industries with complex environmental relationships to their communities) are managed throughout the world: Regular monitoring, coupled with regular negotiations.

I understand that seems pie in the sky to you and your colleagues on the council, but that is only because nobody at the city level has tried to take a longer view with the airport. However there really is no choice but to try because as I’m sure you recognise: no other jurisdictions (State, County, Federal) will act on our behalf. We’re on our own. So unless you’ve just given up, it only makes sense to invest at least a little to see if we can make progress towards some long term goals at the State level that will improve our relationship with the Port.

Now, what would those goals look like? There are so many it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m not sure how well-versed you are in laws pertaining to the Port, but suffice it to say, the Port can use a variety of federal state and even county statutes to prevent us from getting any relief. We can effectively fight most of these:

  • They use a federal statute to avoid paying any mitigation costs outside the FAA ANCA Noise Program. But that can be worked around in several ways.
  • There is also the matter of the hated property tax levy, which the Port’s own P&L demonstrates that it does not need. That can be rescinded or at least we can obtain a much larger share for mitigation and monitoring.
  • There is a bill proposed every year to expand the Port Commission to nine seats and makes those positions District-based. That bill dies for lack of proper lobbying and the fact that we have no coalition. But a Commission, one with at least two members living near the airport would act to as a serious counter-balance to the ongoing focus on the needs of the North and East Sides.
  • Also, the Department Of Ecology monitors Puget Sound and PS Clean Air King County, but neither has any monitoring stations anywhere near Poverty Bay or the airport. Why? The Port lobbies against it.
  • And speaking of monitoring, the Port could have a monitoring system for most common pollutants in place right now if we had demanded it. The technology has already been implemented at other airports around the world. Unlike what you’ve been told, we do not need all sorts of lengthy ‘studies’ to routinely monitor the most common and dangerous Jet-A pollutants and turbine engine heavy metals. In fact, most of the studies that have been done, the Port injected itself into so as to obfuscate and dilute the results.

I could go on and on (those are just items we could work at on the state level), but suffice it to say there are literally dozens of areas that need to be changed to reduce the power of the Port.

Yes, the changes I am suggesting will take many years to effect. But so what? The sooner you start, the sooner it will bear fruit–and continue doing so in perpetuity. The sad fact is that several of the commissioners want to do the right thing, but they simply don’t have the will to do so. In private, they say, “We’d like to help, but you will have to get the State or the Federal Govt. to make us do it.” The truth is that the Port as it stands, will never reform itself because the constant allure of new projects is simply too glamorous for them to ever stop to pay attention to the dirty, thankless, expensive and tedious business of mitigations and fighting the FAA. Very few part time electeds have the stomach for that.

Your Aviation Committee has done fine work on many fronts, but in one sense it has not served you well. You were promised a list of recommendations for the future as far back as last May. That keeps getting pushed back and now they say that their next (December) meeting will be to ‘Blue Sky’ for such recommendations now that the SAMP Scoping process is over. Not to beat on them, but this focus on the threat-du-jour is what always concerns me most when people talk about the airport. In this case, it seems like all anyone can think about is ‘The SAMP!’ as this end all, be all event.

Everyone always reacts to the Port’s plans. We almost never think proactively about how we would like our future to go. Always being reactive is a sucker’s game. The Port wants us to only ever focus on each short term issue because that means we’re never spending time building a coalition at the State level to challenge their control.

Thanks to your leadership Des Moines is in the best financial shape it’s seen in many years. Your bond rating is higher than it’s been in decades. But the good times won’t last forever. So now is the time to invest a small percentage of that good fortune to make sure that future generations will have a cleaner and quieter place to live. What more valuable gift could you give to your city’s future? Therefore I urge you, in the strongest terms, to act now to begin a new long-term process. Hire a professional with the aviation and networking skills to begin changing the long list of laws that allow the Port Of Seattle to treat Des Moines so unfairly. It’s as simple as that.



What I desperately want to get across to all parties: cities, citizen advocates, state reps, etc. is that the process is broken. Everyone keeps trying to find a way to make progress through a traditional ‘process’ or ‘chain of command’. And that is impossible because the structure of the Port makes it impossible.

The Port Of Seattle is intrinsically different from any other airport of its type in the nation. It will not submit to any of the strategies and tactics that have been tried over and over and over and over and over for the last FIFTY YEARS. The frustrating thing for me after doing all this research is that everything people are trying now is just re-branding of strategies and tactics that have been tried before. Everyone thinks they’re trying something ‘new’. But they’re not.

The only thing that will work is to start today to undo the Port Of Seattle so that it functions like a normal community-based, *slot controlled airport. It may take a solid decade of work to achieve. But we have to start. Today. No more of this city level jazz. Or congress level jazz. None of it will ever work.

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