What’s Not To Like? HB1683

So I was back in Olympia last Thursday, this time at the House Transportation Committee to comment on HB1683, the companion to SB5370 which we talked about last time.

TVW Video House Transportation Committee Feb 7 3:30PM (HB1683 begins @ 43:00)

I made my feeble comments along with Des Moines City Councilor Traci Buxton and Des Moines Airport Committee Member Steve Edmiston. Both stressed the ‘economic benefits’ which is a big improvement over the whole “capacity” argument.

However, we all have got to hone our messaging a whole lot if we’re going to get anywheres. For myself? Man, I gotsta start writing things down on 3×5 cards or cocktail napkins or something because with the meds I take now there are days like Thursday where I start to speak and it’s like the Comcast guy disconnected the cable between my head and my mouth. Airplanes bad. Me sad. Tarzan come quick. Need help. Oy. 😀

Now Where Was I?

And my fellow testimonializers were not much more helpfuler… er more helpful? Council Member Buxton tried fielding a couple of what should have been entry-level questions (why isn’t Paine Field a good candidate for a second regional airport) and didn’t haven’t a snappy reply. Apparently we’re so used to the perfunctory public testimony we get locally that we’ve forgotten that we need to be ready to occasionally answer questions. (Hey, we’ve all been there.)

Mr. Edmiston characterized a second airport as “what’s not to like?” even comparing such a place to Amazon’s “HQ2”. And although I know he meant well, I do not want to pitch a second airport as “HQ2” because frankly? I don’t want to put the notion in anyone’s mind that a second airport has anything to do with some sort of partnering with the Port Of Seattle. Quite the opposite. I want a second airport to provide meaningful push-back against the Port Of Seattle.

Which brings me to the heart of what I think is wrong with the ‘salesmanship’ on both these bills. The second airport is being sold as regional a ‘win-win’. The Port Of Seattle is either not mentioned at all or is mentioned in happy, joy, joy terms. I think this is both disingenuous and poor strategy.

The region needs a second airport. Full stop. A second airport will be a definite plus for the right area. But trying to avoid speaking ill of the Port Of Seattle is ridiculous because they are already lobbying against this proposal. I mean right now!

As on last Monday, the group of public commenters that immediately followed us consisted of two fellas from the Port Of Seattle. They were joined by the Director of the Port Of Moses Lake and Eric Johnson, Director of the Washington Ports Association. The message from the Port Of Seattle was clear: You’re going to need our permission to get this passed. Because we’re already working on the inside with our sister Port (Moses Lake) to get the deal we want.

This does not make me happy. Logistics is a very complex business. The decision as to which Port to deliver your goods and then which rail or truck to take them to their final destinations involve lots of negotiations with hundreds of variables. Maybe Seattle is a day closer to China, but Long Beach can unload 12 hours faster. Maybe Moses Lake is closer to the cherry orchards and I-90. You could make a good selling case for choosing any of several Ports depending on the products and the urgency of need.

In spite of this the Port Of Seattle has been a de facto regional monopoly for many decades. They have grown fat by obtaining almost 100% of the revenue from the shipping and passenger revenue from the region’s incredible growth. So they not only have strategies for deep-sixing a second airport, they also have strategies for minimizing the impact of a second airport on their business and this is what we should really be worried about. The most likely outcome is a weak second airport which still leaves Sea-Tac as dangerously over-burdened airport. And worse? The Port will be able to put in their marketing literature how they “worked to enable a second airport.”

Swinging back to that “win-win” strategy. As I said, I think it’s a loser. I understand that no one likes a curmudgeon, but we gain nothing by playing ‘nice’ with the Port Of Seattle. We need to tell everyone about their long history of bad faith and crappy negotiating tactics because we want lawmakers to vote for real competition, not a made-up competition that only works to enhance the Port Of Seattle’s regional monopoly. Being on the side of honest competition is a message lawmakers can get behind because in the long-run it means more money and more jobs for their constituents.

And On A Related Note (Cargo Study)

It would also be worth your time to have a look at the video starting at 26:00 which is a recap of the findings and recommendations of the 2018 Air Cargo Study. This is something we’ve spent a lot of time on this year because it ties in very neatly with a second airport. We’ll have a lot more to say about it soon but for now a word about “incubation”.

We definitely hoped that the word ‘incubator’ would find its way into the recommendations portion of the final product. This study will be used to help fund the second airport–especially as it relates to taking some of the excess cargo demand from Sea-Tac. My deepest fear about Sea-Tac is that we taxpayers have basically been building the Port Of Seattle an absolutely wonderful logistics hub with easy access to major highways and lots of great warehouse space. So even if a second airport comes along, it will be very difficult for them to compete with Sea-Tac what with all its advantages. That second airport will need help in order to survive what may be a fairly long start-up period. That’s the incubation period. I’m pleased to see that the report acknowledges such a need which means that after a second airport gets sited it may actually get enough capital to successfully bid against the Port Of Seattle and find its feet.

Like I always say, this is a long game. On our end it will require at least one ‘pro’ to do what the Port Of Seattle does every day of the week: show up at every meeting, well-prepared, strategies in place. I hope you can see, just looking at this one day of testimony how many moving parts there are. And remember: this is will be going on until 2040! We need a professional working this problem.

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