Around The Sound -- Areas North Don't Want A Sea-Tac -- Idea To Expand Paine Field Still Airborne
In the neighborhoods surrounding Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the notion of a third runway galvanizes residents. In Snohomish County, a plan to introduce commercial airlines at Paine Field has the same effect.
Thought to be put to bed once and for all nearly 15 years ago, the idea of expanded operations at Paine Field keeps coming back. In what then was a unique procedure, an agreement between Snohomish County and residents was reached through mediation in 1978. Essentially, it promised to encourage private general aviation and discourage airline operations.
With that in hand, county officials welcomed heavy residential development in the area around Paine Field, where roads, utilities and emergency services were available.
On the 10th anniversary of that agreement, the issue again surfaced. Amid rumors that airport operations would expand, efforts were begun to form a new city surrounding Paine Field and legal steps were taken to include the airport restrictions in the county charter. Those efforts were muted when the County Council reaffirmed the agreement.
Now, it has returned once more, this time in the form of a regional plan developed by the Puget Sound Air Transportation Committee. With Sea-Tac Airport predicted to reach capacity in a few years, the committee proposes to ease the air-traffic crunch by adding a third runway at Sea-Tac and moving some commercial-airline flights to Paine Field within nine years.
Paine Field is 22 miles from downtown Seattle; 85 percent of its runway capacity is unused; and by 2000, nearly all airliners will have quieter engines reducing noise impact, according to the recommendation.
But like their counterparts near Sea-Tac, Paine Field neighbors worry about noise. And even boosters of expansion worry about traffic.
Over the past decade, the Paine Field area has become an employment center. The Boeing Co., Snohomish County's largest employer, will have 33,500 employees at its nearby Everett plant within three years. Tramco, which services airliners, is doubling its operations at the airport and expects to have 2,350 employees in five years.
Traffic jams already are a problem around the field and around employment centers - on the Mukilteo Speedway, Airport Road and 128th Street corridor leading to Interstate 5. To mitigate the impact of its plant expansion, Boeing agreed to pay $50 million, most of that to improve ground transportation and encourage employees to use public transportation or car pools.
Several major players have yet to take a position, including Boeing.
Everett Mayor Pete Kinch says he is concerned about Boeing employees' ability to get to work on the crowded road system.
The Snohomish County Economic Development Council, long a supporter of expanding Paine Field, says ground-traffic problems have to be resolved.
"If Snohomish County is going to participate in helping solve the region's air-transportation needs, then the region should help share the cost of good transportation needs," said John Thoresen, EDC president.
Paine Field is considered the hub for general aviation in the north Puget Sound area. Large jets being tested by Boeing or serviced log about 8,000 takeoffs and landings a year there, versus 150,000 operations by small aircraft.
Everett Chamber of Commerce President Tom Burns said general aviation wouldn't be pushed aside by airline service even in 2020 because the plan projects that Paine Field would be used to only half its capacity. But private pilots believe otherwise.
"I think general aviation is going to take a beating," said Mick Cooke, president of the Paine Field chapter of the Washington Pilots Association.
Cooke predicts the field would impose stiff landing fees and force big jumps in hangar or plane tie-up rents.
Scheduled airlines take precedence at the fields, and air turbulence from the big jets could jeopardize small-aircraft safety, Cooke said.
Snohomish County has been told by the state to take its fair share of regional air traffic, said County Councilman Bill Brubaker. But with Boeing and Tramco, it has as much air traffic as anyone. Saying use of Paine Field should not go beyond the agreement with residents, Brubaker declared, "I'm not convinced we're doing everything we can to reduce air traffic."
The city of Mukilteo holds firm against expanding the role of Paine Field. "We disagree with the idea of a Sea-Tac north," said Mayor Brian Sullivan, calling the 1978 mediated agreement "our bible."
Following the example of Des Moines, which has rallied other cities and groups to establish a $160,000 fund to fight a third runway at Sea-Tac Airport, Sullivan is talking to the City Council about establishing a legal defense fund.
"Even if it's a few thousand dollars a year, eventually the fund will have to be used," said Sullivan. "The subject of expansion will never go away. We should send the message clearly."
-- Times South bureau reporter Bob Ortega contributed to this report.
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