PPP Update #2

Hi there,

It’s been too long since our first update. Sorry about that.

Part of the delay is that literally the week we decided to create this list, the true magnitude of the COVID-19 emergency became apparent and the Governor declared a State Of Emergency.

COVID-19 Challenges

The first speed bump is that we were told that we should not continue doing site visits. So many of you who had recently heard about the passage of State law HB2315 and the Port’s new Port Package Expansion program could not get on the list. The good news is that we have resumed those visits so if you were looking to have your home evaluated, please contact us now!

The second, much larger problem was that COVID-19 seemed poised to absolutely destroy the Port Of Seattle’s revenues for both 2020 and 2021. (To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, passenger boarding was down ninety five percent in April and May.) So the Port felt like any discussion of spending large amounts of money on Port Packages needed to be put on hold until after they had a chance to do some budget projections. This seemed like a reasonable request so we were in a holding pattern.

But the Port had its budget retreat a few weeks ago, which means they are now deciding about their spending plans for 2021. So last week Port Director Stephen Metruck and his Noise Program team were kind enough to meet with me to discuss the Port’s intentions for 2021. And I regret to say that this meeting was disappointing.

A brief history of Port Packages

Back up for a second. Or rather thirty years. Back in the 90’s, everyone realized that Sea-Tac Airport was over capacity and so it was decided to investigate the notion of building a Third Runway. In exchange for permission from the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to build the Third Runway, the Port Of Seattle agreed to undertake the sound insulation program we now know as ‘Port Packages’. They did this work at light speed (9,000 homes in ten years!) because they desperately wanted to get that permission. And it’s the speed of that program, coupled with the Port’s desire to keep costs as low as possible, that caused so many of the problems we now experience. As engineers like to say: You can have it fast, cheap and good; pick two. 😀

The Abandoned

Now, once the Port had made significant progress on Port Packages, permission was granted to begin construction of the Third Runway–with the understanding that the Port would continue working on getting all eligible homes done. But wouldn’t you know it? Almost as soon as Third Runway construction began in earnest, the whole Port Package program started to grind to a halt. Imagine that. 😀 So by the time the Third Runway opened for biz in 2008 there were still over 1,100 homes, apartments and condominiums left undone, which we refer to as ‘The Abandoned’. (To give you an idea of how slowly the sound insulation program has worked since then, only seventeen homes were done in all of 2019.)

Fast Forward

In the past year, the current Commissioners began to acknowledge that the Port had not fulfilled its commitments to the sound insulation program. The first token of that was their support for HB2315 in 2019.

And then at the 25 February Port Commission Meeting (Agenda/Video), the Port voted on Motion 2020-04 which amended the sound insulation programs. The new motion explicitly directed the corporation to create a plan of work to get all 1,100 remaining homes completed by 2026. In effect, the Commission was saying, rebuild your infrastructure to be able to do hundreds of Port Packages a year, not twenty. And at the same meeting, they also, explicitly discussed our law HB2315, which provided for updates to existing Port Packages. It was clearly stated by all Commissioners from the dais that they wanted to be able to provide updates to the 5,550 homes which had been done poorly and especially those which had been damaged due to poor workmanship and inspection.

Meeting the Director

So I expected my meeting with Director Metruck to simply be about numbers; ie. how many homes the Port felt it could afford to get to work on given the hard economic times. Unfortunately, I was told that the staff have literally not begun working on the plan. This was a chicken and egg discussion. It was their feeling that, unless provided with another directive from the Commission, they were not inclined to develop that work plan until the Port’s finances improved. But that is literally not what the Motion directs them to do. The Motion explicitly tells staff to create a work plan; it does not say, “Hang on until we get you the money.” It was always understood by the Commissioners, “Develop the plan and then come back to us and we’ll figure out how to pay for it.”

By not providing a work plan, we’re temporarily stuck. So my next step is to work with the Commissioners to hopefully get another directive to the effect, “No, we really meant what we told you to do. We’re serious about the sound insulation program.”

Now what?

Look, at the risk of sounding snarky, this is not unexpected. And I’m telling you that because I don’t want you to lose heart. We will get there. As we’ve been trying to say for four years, this is a cultural shift. Think about any new law that attempts to change a deeply entrenched problem where a small group of people have not been treated fairly. Even after you pass the law, the fight isn’t over. In most cases, it’s just beginning. Because then you have to get officials to change their behaviour–that’s the cultural change. And it often takes a while for them to do so. In the Port’s case, they literally have decades of not taking noise issues seriously enough.

Anyhoo… hang in there. And if you haven’t yet had a site visit, please contact usnow to set one up. Even if you’ve already contacted us, please do so again–we were overwhelmed with requests back in April so we want to make sure we haven’t missed anyone.  🙂

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