You Can’t Build Your Way Out Of This (A Letter To Mayor Matt Pina Of Des Moines)

Written after the City Council’s Study Session which covered the 2019 Legislative Agenda with a lot of emphasis on siting a second airport.

Your Honour,

Still awaiting a reply on my last letter. 😀 But I digress. There was much discussion tonight on the siting of a second airport. Although I certainly hope for another airport to get up and running ASAP, I was quite concerned that pretty much the only solution talked about (and the only solution that is ever talked about) is a second airport. And I cannot stress enough that this is a big mistake.

As we hear over and over when it comes to surface traffic, “We cannot build our way out of this.” Right. And the region cannot build its way out of Des Moines’ airport problems.

By the time another airport is sited and constructed it will be too late to help Des Moines. Both phases of the SAMP will be up and running. Also, the siting and construction of another airport is such a huge effort that it is simply too far beyond our control to consider a manageable task. And even if another airport magically appears, it does nothing to guarantee a reduction in noise and pollution at Sea-Tac. It may well be that air traffic obeys the same laws as surface traffic: we add more capacity there and the number of flights here simply increase to fill the available slots.

Therefore, we must aggressively look for solutions that we can reasonably hope to achieve in the same time frame as the siting and deployment of a second airport. We cannot look on a second airport as our main hope and any other programs as only token efforts. In fact, it must be the other way round.

We need to begin today to develop an ongoing program to manage our relationship with the airport. We need clearly defined goals at the State level based on modifying Title 53 of the RCW to reduce the Port’s authority. Tina Orwall said that getting a new airport sited would require ‘a lot of management’. Right. We need someone to develop and manage a coalition of State, County and City leaders to work together to not only get that second airport, but to get EPA grants, expedite FAA grants and push back against the Port everywhere they are. We cannot ask any of our State officials to manage such a wide-ranging portfolio–they have many other issues to handle on behalf of their constituents. And also, frankly, there’s the matter of core-competence. You don’t just want an advocate in every meeting, you want someone who really knows aviation and aviation law.

We need to have a series of one, two, five and ten year goals to permanently change our relationship with the Port so that this SAMP is the last fight of its kind that the City Of Des Moines ever has to fight.

My concern is for the long term future of Des Moines’ environment. Because once the natural beauty of this place is damaged, what will be the very point of Des Moines? What will make Des Moines worth living in or even visiting if the place gains a permanent reputation for noise, pollution and all the societal ills associated with so many other airport communities. You know how close we’re getting so I won’t belabor the point. But for now Des Moines is still as beautiful as any deep water port in Puget Sound and I refuse to accept that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this loss.

Your team has made great strides at putting the City on firm long-term financial footing. It’s now time to look beyond the ledger. It’s time to take steps to ensure the long-term environmental future of Des Moines. Once again, I urge you to focus not on ‘siting a second airport’ but on the truly big picture. Recognise that Des Moines (and the region) needs a full-time Dept Of Airport Advocacy, just as you need a full time Dept. of Economic Development, to develop and implement the strategies we will need to successfully co-exist and compete with our neighbour to the north.



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