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Third runway foes score critical victory

A state environmental permit for construction of a third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is on hold because of water pollution concerns.

Foes of the project, including Federal Way councilors, are hailing the decision of the Pollution Control Hearings Board, which this week blocked the permit from taking effect.

Federal Way Deputy Mayor Linda Kochmar added she hopes the situation will reopen the door to discussions about a new regional airport, which she says is needed rather than a third runway at SeaTac.

“I’m pleased. I think the Airport Communities Coalition as a whole is pleased,” Kochmar said. Federal Way and other nearby cities belong to the coalition, formed to oppose the third runway.

Kochmar added that while Federal Way’s key concern is airplane noise, the environmental issues for communities surrounding the airport are huge.

The Ecology Department issued a water quality certificate for the $773 million project this summer. The coalition appealed to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

The board ruling said the port had not obtained a water right to maintain flows in creeks, meaning “the port is unable to demonstrate legal means are in place to permanently mitigate the low-flow impacts” in the creeks.

“Without such means, it is questionable whether Ecology had reasonable assurances that the water quality standards would not be violated,” the order said.

Kochmar said the decision was a no-brainer.

“The thing is,” she said, “that’s what they needed to look at all along.”

However, Port of Seattle officials said they were surprised and disappointed by the ruling.

“We think, particularly on the third runway, that the port is being held to the highest environmental standards that had ever been applied to a development project in this state,” said Bob Parker, a spokesman for the port.

Kevin Stock, a coalition lawyer, called the decision “a significant loss for the port, because, reading the tea leaves, the board is saying (the coalition) has shown a likelihood of success in pointing to three serious and critical flaws in the port’s projects in terms of protection of the environment.”

Efforts to build a third runway at the largest airport on the West Coast north of San Francisco began in 1987. Besides the state certificate, the port is seeking approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands, with hearings set for next month.

Port officials said Tuesday night they had not determined whether to proceed with full construction without the two permits.

The port has spent $250 million on the runway, including placement of about 3 million cubic yards of fill in areas where permits are not required. All told, the project requires about 20 million cubic yards, the equivalent of more than 34 football fields piled 300 feet high.

Hearings on the appeal of the certificate are set for March.

Kochmar said she hopes the board’s decision stands, and that it causes all agencies involved to sit down at the table together again to find a long-term solution.

Cities surrounding the port say the port has been uncooperative, which sparked their decision to join the coalition, while the port says the cities chose to litigate rather than negotiate.

“Perhaps this will be a blessing,” Kochmar said. “It could get us back to the table to seek a long-term solution.

“...The third runway was never going to be a final solution in any case.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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