Commerce Dept. delves into concerns about Sea-Tac Airport growth

Article Summary:

SEA-TAC INT’L AIRPORT, Wash. – A new study from the state Department of Commerce is trying to measure the impacts of SeaTac Airport’s recent growth on neighboring cities ever since the third runway was added nearly 11 years ago.

While there has been huge job growth and millions of dollars slated to be pumped into local communities, much of the focus at a meeting Wednesday night was on the noise, the pollution and the congestion.

Sea-Tac ranks as one of the fastest growing airports in the nation but there is a downside as operations continue to climb.

“We’re getting more pollution, more people, more planes,” said Linda Rocheleau, a Kent resident who came to the hearing for answers about the changes she’s noticed over the last 30 years she has lived in the area.

The Commerce Department is now comparing scientific data with public perceptions, and people at the meeting were quick to weigh in.

“I’m looking at my children’s future and is this a healthy environment for them to be living in is a major question,” said Kent Palosaari, a spokesperson for a citizen research group called Flight Pattern Kids.

Other impacts are being considered, including the airport’s effect on property values, residential parking and public safety.

“People say, ‘Well you knew the airport was there when you moved there.’ Yes I did but not like this,” said Mary Paynter, who lives in Des Moines.

The commerce study is meant to help the state Legislature make future policy decisions. While many of the people who attended the meeting wanted to halt airport growth, state officials said there may be another way.

“The issue is not so much to stop growth but how growth is distributed,” said Gary Idleburg, a senior planner with the Commerce Department who headed up the meeting.

Despite the concerns, the Port of Seattle points to ongoing efforts to help build-up surrounding communities and minimize environmental impacts.

Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper said the airport’s regional impact is more than $22.5 billion in business revenue and it generates more than 151,000 quality-wage jobs. The airport is working to improve air quality with low-emission requirements for taxis and ride-share companies, and has been shifting to electric-powered vehicles and equipment that operates on the airfield.

Additionally, the airport has spent more than $400 million in noise mitigation efforts and established a community advisory committee to work on lessening operational impacts. One specific effort is the Late Night Noise Limitation Program, which offers incentives to airlines to fly during less noise-sensitive times of the day, or to transition to quieter aircraft.

In terms of economic development, the airport has earmarked up to $10 million over the next five years for the South King County Fund, among other programs.

As far as the Commerce Department study goes, it is supposed to wrap up in June 2020.

There is also a separate effort underway to figure out where to build a second major airport in Washington.