Sea-Tac Arabia

If you follow foreign affairs even a little bit, you’ve heard over the past decade or so how the Saudis are trying, with varying degrees of success, to spend their considerable fortune to actually move their economy away from selling fossil fuel products. They realize that ultimately this is a dead end strategy, if not economically, at least environmentally (or is it the other way round? 😀 ). And that trend has only accelerated over the past several years. They get it. It’s not in the long term interest of their people to depend on that business. In fact, they’re moving as if their very lives depend on it. Because they do.

Now contrast that to how we treat our neighbor the airport. And by ‘we’ I mean everyone in the region from business people to the Port Of Seattle to activists to civic leaders right down to poor residents. Regardless of our feelings about the aircraft flying to and fro, in and out of Sea-Tac, almost no one stops to consider that this all must come to an end. Soon. And I don’t mean as in ‘some day’ like “Some day, we’ll all be traveling to work in jet packs, Timmy!” I mean as in, it needs to become a practical part of policy planning (sorry, I did not intend that alliteration) right now. We need to fundamentally change our relationship with the neighbor that has pretty much come to define both us and our relationship to the region. We need to convince every policy maker in our area that we must wean ourselves off of Sea-Tac Airport and The Port Of Seattle. Pronto.

The economic health and the human health of our region are intrinsically linked. But for various reasons no one in our area seems to believe this. Not really. I mean a few activists may say they believe it. But that’s aspirational. Certainly no policy maker takes that view. In fact, the view of every policy maker, even the ones who now hate the Port’s guts is that the airport can continue to chug along, polluting the area and generating noise and we’ll all just cope–much as we have been. It may get somewhat noiser and somewhat filthier, but nothing we can’t handle with ‘reasonable’ negotiation done by ‘reasonable’ people. Certainly nothing requiring any wholesale changes to a system that has proven to be so enormously profitable for the region.

How do I know this? Why because every airport community is, to one degree or another, increasing its economic relationship with the airport and/or the Port Of Seattle. Not one sees any reason to consider a long-term economic model that does not include the airport or the Port Of Seattle. Every Mayor may cry ‘foul’ at this statement but the truth is the truth. They all enjoy the ‘Economic Engine’ story that the Port likes to tell. All of them.

Now why does this matter? Simple physics. Sea-Tac Airport is a mega-noiser 😀 and a mega-polluter. We haven’t even begun to explore how much it harms us. If you believe in really making a dent in both the noise and the pollution you have to reduce the operations. Full stop. I’ll keep writing it until you believe it.

A slight detour. As I just wrote, the solution for both noise and pollution is very simple. I did not say ‘easy’ I said simple. The process is very simple. Not a lot of words. It’s easy to ignore the fact that this formula is true because it is so simple. It seems much more satisfying to read about elaborate plans that require pages and pages of explanations and very expensive consultants who promise to provide solutions that, at the end of the day, really only chip away at the margins. But people go for them for the same reason they spend $3,000 on a Nordic Trac machine instead of going outside to run up and down the hills in the rain: because it seems less painful. No pain. No gain. And now back to our regularly scheduled show.

As the Count Used To Say

One more time! The only significant long-term solution to providing noise and pollution relief for airport communities is to reduce the number of operations at Sea-Tac. And the first step to doing that? Get the airport communities to stop contributing to Sea-Tac and the Port Of Seattle.

Practical example: Until the City Manager of Des Moines stops being both the Airport Committee Chairman and the Economic Development Director, he has no interest in slowing the growth of warehouse development in Des Moines (which only aids in air cargo flights). Get how this game works? Every one of the airport communities has entanglements like that. And what’s worse? They’re not even trying to extricate themselves from the existing ones. They’re hoping to do even more in the future! Your electeds think that they can have their cake and eat it too: Work with the airport on Council Meeting Monday and then be ‘gravely concerned about impacts!’ on Commission Meeting Tuesday. It don’t work that way.

Twenty Year Bet

Everyone in the area is all worked up about a ‘second airport!’ Not me. I think it’s kind of a joke for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere. But I’m more than willing to indulge this rather elaborate bit of theatre because, hey, if it helps the broader area economy? Cool Breeze!

So if I indulge your dream for another airport for the next twenty years of waiting, I ask that airport cities indulge mine. While we’re all waiting for that Moses Lake Saviour, the airport cities have twenty years to re-jigger their economies to be less entwined with the Port Of Seattle and to do what they can to actually reduce operations–either in negotiations, in Olympia or in court.

Which means that you had better get started, dear reader, in convincing your electeds that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. You have to convince them to do what the Saudis, with all that oil money, are doing: heading in the opposite direction as fast as they can. Like their future depends on it.

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