News

$21 million from U.S. for third runway

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The Port of Seattle’s plan to build a third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is moving forward, despite continued appeals and objections from local leaders and the Airport Communities Coalition.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced in March a $10 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant for the port to fund noise abatement measures for buildings near the airport in Seatac.

Murray also announced the release of an $11.6 million federal Department of Transportation grant for construction of the third runway.

Meanwhile, the Airport Communities Coalition (ACC), whose members –– including Federal Way and Highline Community College –– are opposed to the third runway project, is awaiting rulings on several appeals of permits issued for the project by the state Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2002, DOE issued a water-quality certification that served as a prerequisite to a permit to bring in 20 million cubic acres of dirt to fill 20 acres of wetlands on the site and to begin building the 8,500-foot runway.

The ACC appealed the certification to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, saying the fill the port planned to use was contaminated and the certification didn’t adequately address water-quality issues.

After a review, the board added 16 more conditions intended to address the concerns of the ACC. The port appealed eight of them, and the coalition and DOE also filed appeals.

Oral arguments on the ACC’s appeal were heard in King County Superior County last November. Coalition spokeswoman Kelly Evans said the court’s pending decision could take as long as a year.

Last August, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit, based in part on the earlier certification, that allows the port to begin filling wetlands and building the runway. The coalition appealed that permit, too, saying it includes only six of the 16 items required by the pollution board. That appeal is in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and first briefs are due in May, Evans said.

In addition, the ACC has filed an appeal of a third permit issued last fall that involves monitoring of pollution discharges for the whole airport, not just the runway project. The appeal was filed with the pollution board.

Federal Way has been a member of the ACC since 1994. Assistant city manager Derek Matheson said dues have ranged from $10,000 to $100,000 annually, depending on the scope of work the coalition intended to pursue that year. The city paid $10,000 this year and $30,000 last year.

City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, Federal Way’s representative to the coalition, said the city’s biggest concern with a third runway is a potential increase in noise.

She said city officials want the airport to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to realign flight approach and takeoff patterns so the aircraft turn over Puget Sound or the Tacoma tideflats.

Several residents in Federal Way’s Marine Hills neighborhood have asked city officials to work with the airport to mitigate aircraft noise.

Evans said ACC members have concerns that progress is being made on the project despite the pending appeals.

The port has opened bids for dirt hauling and embankment work, according to port spokesman Bob Park. He said construction could start by this summer.

“We’re very concerned about that,” Evans said.

She added ACC members are concerned the port has requested more money from the federal government. The most recent cost estimates, released last summer, are about $1.2 billion, she said, up from early project estimates of $200 million to $300 million.

“They’re spending that much money on something unnecessary and unneeded,” Evans said. “They want to put something where it doesn’t belong, that’s why it’s so expensive.”

Port officials say a third runway will allow landings on two runways in all but the worst weather, helping reduce flight delays.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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