A dozen years ago, neighbors fought Sea-Tac Airport expansion. This time things are different

Article Summary:

By Steve Wilhelm – Staff Writer, Puget Sound Business Journal
Nov 3, 2015, 5:54pm EST

The lure of jobs outweighs worries about noise as leaders of surrounding cities consider ambitious growth plans at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

It helps that Port of Seattle officials aren’t planning to build new runways or expand the airport’s perimeter.

Instead, under a 20-year plan now being considered by port and local leaders, they could add another 35 gates and other features at the airport in order to handle up to 66 million passengers annually by 2035.

That compares with the 37 million that passed through the Northwest’s largest airport last year.

“We hope to leverage the opportunity of the expansion,” said Kamuron Gurol, city manager of Burien, about the airport expansion plans. “It is a big economic engine, and it’s right next to us.”

He added that he hopes the airport will stimulate more growth in downtown Burien.

“We see lodging as a real opportunity for Burien,” he said. “I think the airport is a prompting factor for that.”

The officials’ tone is markedly unlike a dozen years ago, when cities around Sea-Tac’s perimeter were fighting against plans to build a third runway. But now that runway is long ago built, and things look different.

“That was something that many residents saw as threatening,” said Mark Hoppen, city manager of Normandy Park. “What they’re planning now, isn’t of the same character.”

He added that while the airport generates jobs for his town of 7,000, just west of Sea-Tac, it also generates wider stimulus.

“It’s about the proximity of Normandy Park to people who need services, homes to live in,” he said. “There’s an upside to that, if it’s properly handled.”

That said, local officials are worried about extra traffic and noise as the airport grows, but several said they’re feeling like the port’s approach to these issues is collaborative.

“It’s a credit to the port — they’ve held a number of public meetings, good turnout at many of those things, public has had a chance to weigh in,” said Dave Kaplan, mayor of Des Moines. “They seem to be listening to the concerns being expressed.”

He added that job generation is at the center of the conversation, along with the environment, traffic and noise concerns.

“From an economic standpoint, we have a good relationship with the Port of Seattle,” he said. “It’s 180 degrees from when we were fighting about the third runway.”

Kaplan pointed to the Des Moines Business Park, on land at the edge of the airport, as an example of benefits so far. The southern third of that is to be the new home for the FAA, with 1,600 employees, and other companies will be moving there.

“The business park sat fallow for 25 years,” he said. “Now we have businesses beginning to locate in Des Moines.”