A Letter To Tina Orwall re. Port Package Legislation

Tina Orwall is a State Representative For the 33rd District. This letter is in regard to a conversation I had with her re. her proposed legislation to revise RCW 53.54 to help with Port Package Problems. There is a discussion of long-term strategic goals, including a Community Agency to administer relations with the Port.

Thank you for your time today. As I said, my interest is in keeping all of the proposals of your Stakeholder Committee a la carte. So long as the legislation updating RCW 53.54.030 can go forward without any other add-ons, SeatacNoise.Info are happy campers.

As to the where to go from there? As I said, this is Step 0.5 out of 10. We have thought a lot about the way forward. There are real complexities with the implementation of all the things people want. I touched on a few of these: funding sources, homeowner qualification, inspections, who actually performs the work, how any updates interface with Part 150, etc. We hope that you will consult someone in our group at every step because these are areas in which we have specific expertise.

Beyond the mechanics, there is the strategic aspect. What are we really trying to achieve beyond fixing some windows and filters, etc? We believe that without having some sort of long-term plan, our communities will be forever revisiting the same (and new) problems with Sea-Tac Airport. So we have a list of Strategic Goals I’d like to share which we want to work back from. In other words, we consider these our ‘destination’ and then, when anyone comes up with a particular idea we look to see if and how that idea gets us to this destination. All our thinking is structured in this manner.

Strategic Goals

Our larger strategic goals are:

1. Create our own path forward. Our main complaint with other activists is that they seem to believe in pooling ideas and modeling programs at other airports. This is a mistake. If one looks at the history of Sea-Tac Airport, the Port claims to have been the innovator on many mitigation programs. They are not exaggerating. The rest of the country followed their lead as far back as the ’70’s. Where they are disingenuous is that all those accomplishments were 30 years ago. The Port has done almost nothing for residents since 2008. But they should be encouraged to regain that leadership. We should not be looking at what works at other airports. We have a unique system of highly centralised control (the Commission) and we should be figuring out a way to negotiate with them one-on-one on that basis. Specifically, the large committees do not work.

2. Create a permanent system for negotiating and administering our needs through a single, shared Community Entity. All these efforts by you, Adam Smith, Cities, local activists lack force because they are not focused on specific targets. Further, they are unsustainable because they are based on particular people rather than an ongoing entity. We need a permanent office to  negotiate on issues as they (inevitably) come up. That office will have the persistent institutional memory to be able to properly advocate for issues which may take years to resolve. That officer will also have the expertise to be able to properly interface with State and Federal agencies in order to provide a coherent messaging strategy. That will make higher-level electeds’ jobs easier since they won’t have to do duplicative research and outreach to determine how best to serve community residents.

3. Let us manage ourselves through that single, shared Community Entity. What we do now is try to get a plethora of existing agencies to help us. We reach out to PSCleanAir, PSRC, the Port, Cities, and on and on… The problem with all these organisations is the Greater Good Fallacy. Since they all represent much larger constituencies, they will always come back with, “Sorry, the Greater Good Of King County depends on the airport!”, “Sorry, the Greater Good Of Washington depends on the airport!”, “Sorry, the Greater Good Of America depends on the airport!” Even individual Cities like Des Moines fall into that trap, being all too willing to dump any opposition to bad Port practices whenever we are offered even the smallest ‘grants’ for economic development. We need an independent agency that represents the airport communities against the Port Of Seattle and that is not beholden to the temporary swings of political fortune.

4. Create a sustainable funding source which comes from the Port. There needs to be a dependable and permanent bag of money that can be allocated for various airport-related needs. This should be designated exclusively for items directly related to mitigating the effects of the airport. It could be managed via an ILA as SCORE now is. This will be a real temptation for Cities who see any bag of money as an opportunity to add some sidewalks or make other municipal improvements. But the fund must be strictly limited to items such as pollution monitors, noise monitors, testing, noise mitigation, air filtration, etc.

5. Put that funding source on the Port’s Balance Sheet. This may seem abstract, but this is actually the key to all our problems: EXTERNALITIES. If one recalls basic accounting, an ‘externality’ is a cost that does not appear on a financial statement. Simple as that. Your home’s trash is not an externality because you have to pay every month for its removal–you pay a cost for dealing with your environmental impact. Now, imagine that you did not have to pay for trash or sewer. How would that affect your life? You’d likely become a lot less mindful of your impacts because if you don’t have to pay for it? Well, that is exactly what airport impacts are. Because they don’t have to be costed, they literally do not exist on the Port’s financials. And if they don’t exist on their financials, they never get talked about in a serious way.

If you choose a funding source that is outside of the Port’s budget they will continue to ignore the essential facts of their impact on the surrounding communities. However, if that funding source is shown as a cost of doing business, they are forced to make that a part of every annual budget process. And more than that, it becomes something negotiable with the community over time. Once the impacts are truly on the Budget, we have now actually put a cost on their environmental footprint. Initially it may be the wrong cost, but it’s there.

This matters because it then says to the rest of King County and to the State Of Washington: here is the cost of all the economic benefits that you guys get. It destroys the ‘Greater Good’ fallacy.


Having a Community-based Entity will give the Cities control of deploying programs to help residents. However, there is the matter of expertise, which Cities do not have and the Port does.

One path forward would be to use the Port’s Noise Department as a subcontractor for mitigation services. In other words, the Community Entity would hire the Port to perform sound insulation or to install Noise Monitors. This would leave the expertise with the Port (including Federally required  inspections) but give the Cities control over scheduling–thus ending the ‘slow-walk’.

What we probably do not want is to have each City be required to develop in-house expertise. This turned out to be disastrous during the original Port Package deployments where City inspectors (who do not have adequate training) either avoided oversight or were incapable of detecting problems.

We also want to get rid of the constant bickering between Cities on specific priorities. We all share exactly the same health and property issues. But frankly, the differentials in politics, wealth and self-interest keep electeds from efficiently negotiating with the Port. Having a single management will eliminate that problem and prevent the Port from working one community against the other.



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