By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
Two and a half years and more than $600,000 later, the final environmental review of passenger airline service at Paine Field says the same thing it said before: that adding up to 23 flights per day at the airport by 2018 would not significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution.
The lengthy document issued by the Federal Aviation Administration responds to more than 900 comments made in early 2010 in response to the draft version of the study.
In 2008, Horizon Air of Seattle and Allegiant Air of Las Vegas asked Snohomish County, which owns and operates Paine Field, for permission to fly from the airport.
A decision by the FAA on whether flights may be approved at the Snohomish County-run airport is not expected until the end of the year.
No new hearings will be held, but written comments will be accepted through Oct. 14.
Those who support and oppose flights at Paine Field both expressed some frustration with the process. The FAA originally said the report would be out in two months, and it took nearly three years.
Consultants were paid $654,000, mostly in federal dollars, to do much of the work.
“They’ve spent over three years and $600,000 studying this, and I think it’s time to move forward with the rest of the process,” said Todd Brunner, owner of Brunner Construction of Lynnwood and co-chairman of Citizens Right to Fly from Paine Field, a group that’s been pushing for flights from the airport.
The report considered only the number of flights proposed by the airlines and did not account for any significant increase of flights in the future.
Allegiant Air, based in Las Vegas, proposed to start with four flights per week the first year, increasing to 20 in five years. Horizon, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines in Seattle, proposed to start with 12 flights a day and increase to 20 by the fifth year, or 140 per week. These flights would carry an estimated 238,200 passengers per year.
If a major increase in flights were to be proposed, that would have to be addressed by another environmental study, the report states.
That bit-by-bit approach violates federal environmental law, said Greg Hauth of Mukilteo. He’s a member of the group Save Our Communities, which for years has opposed any regular passenger service at the airport.
“You’re supposed to look at cumulative impacts,” Hauth said. “They’ve paid over $600,000 to the consultant, it’s a complete waste of taxpayer money. We could have written a lot more garbage than this and we wouldn’t have charged nearly as much.”
Proponents of flights tout convenience and economic development. Opponents cite noise and the potential for diminished property values and quality of life in nearby neighborhoods.
Brunner noted the report came to the same conclusion as its earlier version three years ago.
“The citizens of Snohomish County own the amazing transportation and industrial complex known as Paine Field. Yet to date, unless an individual either owned a plane or had access to a corporate jet, they could not use the facility that they own and pay taxes annually to support,” he said.
The report did consider a scenario in which enough flights would be added to push a small terminal to capacity. Snohomish County officials said in 2009 the county could build a small terminal to accommodate the two airlines and their planned number of flights.
Filling the terminal to the brim would add only 420 flights per year, however, to the annual total of 8,320 passenger flights by 2018, the report said.
The report said while the increase in passengers would require more parking at Paine Field, it wouldn’t increase commute-time road congestion over the other 2018 scenario. Nor would it make noise significantly louder for airport neighbors, according to the report.
“They throw us a bone but say it doesn’t really matter,” Hauth said. He said the report failed to consider the growth of airlines’ service at other airports.
Some commenters in 2010 said that any introduction of flights would open the floodgates for an unlimited number in the future, the report notes. Airports that provide passenger service are restricted by federal law in placing any limitations on the future number of flights or airlines.
This concern is “not justified,” according to the report, mainly because the size of the proposed terminal could not accommodate such a large number of flights.
Another environmental review would be required for the terminal building to be expanded or for a larger one to be built, according to the report.
More study also would be required for another airline to serve Paine Field in addition to Allegiant or Horizon, or for either airline to bring on a different type of plane other than those proposed.
For noise, the report uses the federal benchmark of 65 decibels, averaged out over 24 hours — with nighttime noise weighted 10 decibels extra because of its potential effect on sleep. This is the point at which noise is considered to have a negative effect on airport neighbors. It’s the threshold for determining, for example, that a home would be eligible for installation of noise insulation at government expense.
The 65-decibel level is roughly equivalent to listening to a slightly louder-than-average conversation.
In none of the scenarios does that noise level reach homes, schools, churches or businesses, according to the report.
Some experts, however, say noise can affect health at 55 decibels or even lower. This level is roughly equivalent to the hum of an intersection in downtown Everett.
In 2002, according to a Paine Field plan written that year, the 55-decibel average day-night level extended slightly into some neighborhoods in Mukilteo and north of Lynnwood, encompassing about 8,420 residents. Paine Field primarily serves Boeing operations, aircraft repair businesses and small, privately owned aircraft.
The 55-decibel level is not addressed in the report.
The FAA is expected to decide by the end of the year on whether to allow flights. Any dissatisfied party may appeal to federal court, said Peter Camp, an executive director for Snohomish County.
If approved, the flight proposals would then have to go through a state environmental study, he said. It’s uncertain how long this would take. The earlier study was done under federal rules.
The report is available at www.painefield.com/airserviceea.html and in hard copy at Paine Field, the downtown county campus and libraries in Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Marysville.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Paine Field environmental report is available online at www.painefield.com/airserviceea.html and in hard copy at Paine Field, the downtown county campus and libraries in Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Marysville.