South Thurston County location under consideration for ‘Sea-Tac-size’ airport

Discussion:

A south Thurston County location is one of many being considered for a second, Sea-Tac-size airport.

The state Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission gathered in April and took a straw poll of its members.

Among the 25 members of the commission, 14 showed support for developing existing airports further to accommodate short-term needs while also building a large, new airport as the preferred strategy for addressing the long-term need for increased aviation capacity.

Seven members voted only to expand existing airports and four members didn’t vote, according to the survey. The state Legislature created the CACC to develop strategies that will meet the increasing need for aviation capacity in Washington state.

“Developing one large airport (ideally in the south portion of the Puget Sound region) not only alleviates current congestion but also minimizes pollution associated with extended ground travel to existing airports,” a CACC member said in the survey comments. “It allows the region to benefit and compete for domestic/international business.”

Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser said projections show that by 2050, the state will need twice the capacity for air travel. He said the CACC has a list of places that could serve as the site of the new airport.

A location just north of Littlerock, west of Interstate 5 and south of Black Lake is being considered, according to Menser.

“They want to find six of those (locations) where the community is behind it,” Menser said. “Then, they’ll go through a more careful vetting process. They’re going to first, whittle it down to two by, I think, the end of the year and ultimately they’re going to recommend one to the state legislature.”

He said the timeline for decisions is “pretty tight.” The CACC wants to have six options narrowed down by mid-summer.

Menser said he was told the south county location was already explored in the early 90s, which led to the area’s inclusion during this process. The Thurston Regional Planning Council was also presented with the possibility of a second airport being built in the county in June.

According to Menser, there was very little excitement surrounding the proposal, including from Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet.

“(Kmet) said there was significant community opposition,” Menser said. “He said something that I hadn’t heard from anywhere else, he said the study that was done back in the early 90s showed that because of the airflow patterns in this area, the planes would have to come in and out, basically, through an air corridor directly above Olympia and over the state capitol.”

(Kmet) said residents objected to the noise that would be created when the project was first proposed, according to Menser.

Now, the commissioners are seeking the opinion of the public regarding the possible airport location. Menser said as of Wednesday, only six comments have been received, five of which were against the proposal and one was in favor.

According to Menser, the county commission voted unanimously that without adequate feedback from the public, it would not ask for the location to be included on the list of six.

“We were uncomfortable pushing it forward any further without more community input,” Menser said.

CACC members also were concerned about the time it would take to build a new airport. They pointed to the renovation of local airports as a more practical method for reaching short-term goals.

“It will take 20 years to develop a second ‘Sea-Tac’ sized facility,” a CACC member said. “We should continue to expand commercial and freight service at Sea-Tac, Paine Field and Boeing Field.”

For Menser, if the CACC decides to request a large facility from the legislature, he’s uneasy about the potential impact to Thurston County.

“I’m really concerned about it,” Menser said. “We’re kind of like the gatekeeper for the rural versus the urban nature of Western Washington … if you plop a Sea-Tac-sized airport beyond the border of the urban areas and into the south, central county, you’re going to destroy that duality that I think everybody loves about Thurston County and it’s essential to our culture.”

If you would like to comment on the airport proposal, residents are asked to send an email to the county commissioners. Those emails can be found at https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/bocc.

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