County considers $8M bet on Boeing at Paine Field

EVERETT — Snohomish County officials are weighing an $8 million bet at Paine Field — the cost of preparing an industrial site at the airport for manufacture of the Boeing Co.’s new 777X.

The expense of preparing the site, which could be used by another aviation business should Boeing opt to not expand at the county-owned airport, would be covered by municipal bonds.

The proposal is in the early stages but has the backing of the County Council, county Executive John Lovick and the mayors of Everett and Mukilteo, said Dave Waggoner, director at Paine Field. He and journalists accompanied Gov. Jay Inslee, Lovick and other elected officials on a tour of the airport Thursday.

“Our plan is to get the permits for an industrial pad and perhaps do some of the development,” Waggoner said.

The discussion is part of a local and statewide push to convince Boeing to design and build an updated version of the 777, dubbed the 777X, in the Puget Sound region. The site at Paine Field could be used to manufacture the 777X’s composite wing, a slice of new technology that has lawmakers salivating. Inslee and local officials recently proposed that potential sites for 777X work be granted an official designation of “statewide significance,” which speeds the permitting process for those projects.

“We want to be ready,” Inslee said.

A county-owned site on the west side of the airport, which could accommodate a factory of 600,000 square feet plus parking and other facilities, would require about 20 permits. The design, environmental assessment and permitting process typically takes 12 to 18 months, officials said. And it would cost about $8 million to get the site ready, Waggoner said.

Making the site “shovel-ready” would make it more attractive to Boeing or another company.

“We want to reduce the timeline and the uncertainty in getting those permits,” Waggoner said.

The airport has the bonding capacity to go forward with the project, but the business case isn’t completed, Waggoner said. Still, he thinks proceeding would be good regardless of Boeing’s decision on where to build all or parts of the 777X.

In any event, Waggoner wants to reserve the location for aerospace companies that need access to the main runway at Paine Field.

Waggoner said the project would require ripping up about six acres of wetland. Paine Field, however, has a wetlands bank for such purposes. It created 30 acres of wetlands nearby, including the Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary on Seaway Boulevard, and has only used about 15 of those acres to mitigate other projects.

The city of Everett also has identified four sites on Boeing’s existing property that could be used for 777X wing fabrication. Waggoner doesn’t consider the airport project to be in competition with those.

Boeing hasn’t indicated a preference. The Chicago-based jetmaker, in fact, has not committed to assembling the 777X or the aircraft’s wing in Washington. Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive officer, said on Wednesday that the company is likely to make those decisions within two to six months after formally launching the 777X project later this year.

Said the governer Thursday, as he inspected the proposed factory site: “They’re very good at keeping things under wraps.” State and local officials have not yet notified Boeing of the proposal, Inslee said.

Washington faces competition for future aircraft work from South Carolina, where Boeing fabricates carbon-fiber fuselage sections, and from Japan, which supplies the 787’s composite wings.

Inslee said he can’t stop a company like Boeing from diversifying geographically. Instead, he wants to “focus on what we can control.” That includes speeding the permitting process and developing aerospace-specific education and transportation initiatives. A 777X task force, led by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, is expected to unveil plans to win 777X work in coming weeks.

The new industrial site at Paine Field would be just south of the new Dreamlifter operations center, a more than $30 million project funded by Snohomish County. Boeing is leasing back the facility from the county. The center is to open in October.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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