An idea to minimize Paine Field flights

EVERETT — Snohomish County’s best chance of preventing an explosion of commercial airline service at Paine Field is by building the passenger terminal needed by carriers to operate, according to a legal analysis prepared for elected leaders.

If the county operates the terminal, too, it could collect revenue for improvements at the airport, lawyers suggest in the “white paper” delivered last week.

This morning, the Snohomish County Council is expected to discuss in closed session issues raised by Kaplan, Kirsch &Rockwell in its Jan. 7 report.

The advice will help guide Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and his staff in their upcoming talks with Horizon Air and Allegiant Air, the two firms looking to start flights from Paine Field this year.

Horizon is further along in its pursuit than Allegiant with negotiations on an agreement set to launch right away.

It wants to fly four times daily to Portland and two times daily to Spokane starting this summer. Horizon’s plans call for use of the Q400 turboprop jet made by Bombardier.

Reardon and council members Mike Cooper, Brian Sullivan and Dave Gossett have repeatedly made public their opposition to commercial service at the county-owned airport. And they’ve said they want no taxpayer dollars used in constructing a terminal.

But the 19-page report points out that if they follow that course then someone else — one of the airlines or a third party — is entitled to construct and operate a terminal.

If that happened, the county would lose out on some revenue. More importantly, it would wind up with little control on the size and design of facilities.

An airline or third party could construct buildings roomy enough to serve more airline carriers in the future, spurring the expansionism feared most by surrounding communities.

In the report, lawyers suggest the county can build a “minimal terminal facility that satisfies the County’s legal obligations and the carriers’ needs, but does not provide unfettered opportunity for growth.”

They conclude there is “no obligation to build facilities that accommodate future growth beyond the existing proposals. The County’s actions might have the consequence of making future growth inconvenient or costly but the County has no legal obligation to anticipate growth of passenger operations unless it has received a definite proposal for such service,” they advise.

Gossett has opposed spending county money on a terminal but said Friday he could be “persuaded” to change his mind.

He wants to be sure the county can recoup its investment and retain the ability to limit expansion of airline service as the terminal’s owner-operator.

Greg Tisdel, a leader of Fly Paine Field, said he hopes the county puts up the money.

“Taxpayers have an asset out there. The county should do it to realize income from the asset,” he said.

Federal money can be obtained for the work. Different grant programs offered by the FAA could provide up to $200,000 at the start of construction and at least $150,000 later.

And Horizon may pick up a few expenses.

Dan Russo, vice president of marketing and communication for Horizon, said the company “does put in a certain amount of improvements” which would be part of any negotiations.

Without a specific project, it’s unclear how much money will be needed. Erecting a permanent structure is likely more expensive than hauling in a modular building. Both options are allowed by the FAA.

Regardless of who constructs the terminal, state and federal laws require an analysis of its potential effect on the surrounding environment.

That’s where opponents could delay or block the flights.

“You can’t just do a double-wide anymore. Even if they want to build a building I think we can hold them off,” said Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, whose city established a $250,000 fund for legal action.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or

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