Almost every politician or advocacy group in Puget Sound would seem to agree on some basic themes when it comes to controlling Sea-Tac Airport. And in fact, it is remarkable how similar the viewpoints are (at least in public) between almost anyone you might speak with. However there is one key difference between myself and (apparently) the rest of the world when it comes to Sea-Tac. And this difference has been a matter of a great deal of argument and pain and misunderstanding between me and politicians and the community. So I think it bears a bit of discussion–if only to clarify my position.
Where I differ from virtually every other group in this region can be summed up like this: We need to be pushing hard on Sea-Tac Airport to reduce the number of daily flight operations right now, while simultaneously working on longer term plans to prevent expansion. Again: we need to work to reduce the number of operations at the airport RIGHT NOW, regardless of any other efforts at preventing future growth. And we must do this while we continue to work to prevent any further growth. We must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
What drives me NUTS is that every other group, both public advocates such as all the ‘Quiet Skies’ groups and the various politicians are all focusing on the long game: solutions to prevent expansion and to site an second airport, while doing nothing to reduce the current levels of take-offs and landings. This, to me, seems sheer madness.
Sea-Tac currently has approximately fourteen hundred daily operations. That’s double the number of operations before the third runway. Even if no further expansion occurs, this is a dangerous number of flights which is already causing a tremendous amount of damage to health and property. In fact, I’ll bet that every single person who joined a ‘Quiet Skies’ organization in this region did so because of the current problems and not because of worry over future expansion. In other words, those people joined because the current levels of noise and pollution are unacceptable and not because they are currently OK with the situation, but just want to keep things from getting out of hand. People get involved because the problem is already out of hand. And in fact, the situation has been out of hand since the third runway was built. That’s why we sued to prevent its building in the first place.
And yet, the only protests and legislative action seem to be on curtailing the expansion of Sea-Tac, ie. keeping Sea-Tac from growing and to hasten the siting of another airport. I hate using the word ‘literally’, but literally every document or web page you can see or every person you can talk to about problems at the airport now will tell you about how they are fighting the “further expansion of the airport”. The only conclusion any rational person can come to after reading a statement like that is this: the status quo is acceptable. The problem is simply to prevent things from getting any worse.
I can only guess as to why various advocacy groups and politicians have taken this attitude when the status quo is so clearly not acceptable to so many residents. Perhaps they think that pushing back on the airport is simply too hard (for a variety of reasons I’ll get into in a minute) and that the only reasonable approach is to prevent expansion since the law provides a path to do so.
Or perhaps preventing further expansion is the only strategy that all sides can agree on and the advocacy groups simply lack the stomach for a fight against politicians and business and other special interests.
Perhaps it’s a combo platter.
POSITIVE CHALLENGES TO CHANGE
It’s important to remember that the Port Of Seattle is charged in its Bylaws to be a Job Creation Engine! and an Economic Engine! I can’t stress that enough. Whoever thought up this public corporation didn’t think of it just as a structure for managing the efficient transport of goods and services, but also to create jobs, Jobs, JOBS! They are mandated to ALWAYS KEEP GROWING! So they are always pushing against the communities they live in. On top of that, they generate a huge percentage of the state’s tax revenue. Since Washington has no income tax, the Port is a critical part of the state’s annual budget. Every state lawmaker is loath to curtail the airport in any way and erode that juicy tax money. And finally, The Port Of Seattle is its own ‘government’ and thus has hundreds of small and large programs running all the time to benefit various parts of the community. These are programs that one might think that the state or county or municipal governments should handle, but the Port does them and gets a tremendous public relations benefit from doing so.
NEGATIVE CHALLENGES TO CHANGE
The Port has an amazing record of beating the living crap out of communities and individuals that have tried to sue them for relief. A big part of their success hinges on attitude of the courts. Our courts have been decidedly pro-business, or I should say, ‘pro-letter-of-the-law’.