A Letter To Port Of Seattle Commissioners

Yesterday, I made the following public comment at the Port Of Seattle regular commission meeting (Start @ 22:30)

Sorry to digress, but my opening remark had to do with an award given at the beginning of the meeting to a Port employee for his good work in helping to clean up the Duwamish River. The irony of course is that the aviation industry (primarily Boeing) was the cause of the irreparable harm done to the river several generations ago. I was musing on that fact that fifty years from now, it is very likely that another Port Commission will hand out an award to another Port employee for her good work in attempting to fix the irreparable damage done to our communities by the aviation industry. The Commissioners tend to have puzzled looks on their faces when I do this sort of thing, but I can’t seem to help myself.

This morning I received replies from Commissioners Steinbrueck and Calkins. Both said that they were unaware of the Port lobbyist’s activities to change the language of the State Environmental Impact Proviso.

This was my reply:

There is no transcript available for any of these meetings. They were not organised under OPMA. It was only by chance that local activists from Quiet Skies discovered this. Yarden Weidenfeld gives a timeline of what happened in the video link I sent you.

More to the point, all of us in the community are very upset that your people were able to negotiate significant changes to the law, removing important language as to the areas that can be studied. This is deeply unfair on a number of levels.

The current ‘solution’ seems to be that your people will continue to be at these meetings, but they will be also open to some small number of residents. That is far from an adequate remedy. That means that your people will continue to have influence over the implementation of the law–however the public will get to watch. Hooray! NOT.

Because of your people’s tactics, a simple process will now become unnecessarily formalised. Far worse, it will have the appearance of fairness, without actually being fair.

The whole point of the law was specifically to keep you OUT; to have at least one study/process that was beyond your sphere of influence. Your people have circumvented the very spirit of this law. I understand it is their job to ‘jealously defend your (the Port’s) interests’ but this goes too far.

The rage and ongoing resentment the residents of the airport communities feel towards the PoS is exactly because of tactics like this. This is a pattern that goes back decades and decades. It is why I so often bring up history during my public comments. (Now you have a concrete example of what I am talking about.) You need to understand that not only is this situation bad, but that this is part of a systemic pattern of bad-faith behaviour that goes back to the 3rd Runway and before.

But you can provide a very simple fix that would go a long way towards rebuilding at least a modicum of trust:

What should happen is this: Instruct your representatives relegate themselves to exactly the same status as the public: they may audit these meetings, but they should not be allowed to interact with any of the participants with regard to this law. They should accede to our demand to have their changes removed and the original language of the law reinstated in full. And finally, they should be instructed to make no further attempts to alter the process in any way, either at these meetings or in any other context.

I respectfully ask that the commission immediately take the above action to preserve the independence of our impact study.

–JC Harris
Des Moines

As I said in my public comment, it’s bad whether or not they knew of their lobbyist’s efforts. If they were not aware, the next question would be: “OK, now you know. Are you OK with this?” and then, of course. “What are you going to do about it?” My letter says what I think should be done about this particular situation, but I am trying to hammer home the notion that this is how the corporation operates.

If the Port Commission is simply unaware of what is going on (as is the conceit of Steve Edmiston’s The Briefing Project), then not only should a fix to this problem be forthcoming, but we should also expect that this will help to steer the Commission towards a different course. In other words, if we give the Commission concrete examples of bad behaviour by the corporation they oversee, can they (or will they) step up and recognise that they need to do a much more thorough job of oversight? The above example is about as clear as it can get so we shall see.

Commissioner Felleman’s reply to me from the dais was telling. He now frequently engages in ‘what-about-ism’. When someone brings up any problem with the airport, his reply tends to be “Yeah, well what about…”. Usually followed by a spiel about ‘sustainable aviation fuels’. This defensiveness does not, to put it mildly, inspire optimism.

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