Runway gets break from court


Staff writer

Construction of a third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport could begin as soon as this summer after the state Supreme Court last Friday removed several environmental requirements imposed by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Among the board conditions repealed by the court was one dealing with soil-testing to ensure harmful contaminants aren’t in the soil that will be used to fill a wetland and build up the runway, according to Airport Communities Coalition chairman and Des Moines Mayor Bob Sheckler.

In 2002, the state Department of Ecology (DOE) issued a water-quality certificate to the Port of Seattle that served as a prerequisite to the port getting an Army Corps of Engineers permit to bring in 20 million cubic yards of soil to fill 20 acres of wetland on the site and to build the 8,500-foot runway.

The coalition, an anti-third runway group made up of cities near the airport –– including Federal Way –– and Highline Community College, filed an appeal of the permit with the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

After reviewing the project, the board added 16 conditions to the permit that would require the port to protect a nearby stream, mitigate for the loss of the wetlands and ensure the fill didn’t contain harmful levels of toxic contaminants.

Among the conditions was a requirement for a higher standard of testing that would be used to keep out fill dirt contaminated with pollutants.

The port appealed eight of the conditions, saying they were onerous and overbearing. The Airport Communities Coalition and DOE also appealed some of the conditions.

Linda Strout, deputy chief executive officer and general counsel for the port, said the port was prepared to include DOE’s soil-testing standards in its construction plans.

“We never were trying to go below the (DOE) standards,” said Strout.

The Supreme Court’s decision Friday removed the pollution board’s requirement for soil testing, saying the board should defer to the agency with the expertise. “That leaves the (DOE) standards in place,” Strout said.

She said the type of construction work expected to begin this summer includes the port bringing in another 6.5 million cubic yards of fill, placement of the fill where it will need to go on the site, and relocation of a portion of Millers Creek.

But because of the number of appeals filed on various elements of the project, the court ruling doesn’t necessarily give the port a carte blanche go-ahead to start building the third runway.

In its decision last Friday, the state’s highest court threw out the pollution board’s standard for soil testing, but it upheld DOE’s standard.

“Now the big question remains: Where in the world is the port going to find fill that meets Department of Ecology standards?” Sheckler said. “It’s far from over.”

Strout said port officials anticipate construction to be finished in late 2008. The project budget is about $1.2 billion.

Federal Way has been a member of the Airport Communities Coalition since 1994 and has paid dues ranging 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.

While Federal Way doesn’t share some of the environmental concerns of cities next door to the airport, Federal Way City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, the city’s representative on the coalition, has said officials here are concerned about an increase in noise from additional aircraft taking off and landing and the increased potential for a plane crash in the city.

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