County might build Paine Field terminal

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council could consider a resolution Wednesday saying it would prefer to build an airline terminal at Paine Field as opposed to seeing an airline do it.

The resolution also declares the county’s intention to continue to negotiate in good faith with Allegiant Air and Horizon Air, the two airlines that have expressed an interest in running passenger flights out of county-run Paine Field.

The resolution doesn’t presume that an agreement will be reached with either airline, or that the terminal will be built. If those events do occur, the council prefers a county-built terminal.

County officials recently received advice from the Denver-based law firm Kaplan, Kirsch &Rockwell that they would have more control over flights at the airport if they built the terminal rather than forcing the airlines to do it.

Federal law requires airports to accommodate airlines wanting to provide passenger service but can make those airlines pay for any needed improvements to the airport or roads.

A majority of the county’s elected officials, Cooper included, oppose passenger flights at the airport.

“Based on the analysis that we’ve done, if the county decides to get into this business, and that’s a big ‘if’ still, we’re better served to build the terminal and recover our costs through the leases rather than allowing the airlines to build the terminal,” Cooper said.

If the county builds the terminal, it could control the size, while if an airline were to build it, it could sublease it to other airlines, the councilman said.

“If we build the terminal, we control everything,” he said.

Councilman Dave Somers, who also opposes flights at the airport, echoed Cooper’s reasoning.

“I think there’s a lot of benefits to the citizens of the county if the county retains ownership of the terminal,” he said.

If somebody else comes in to build and run a terminal, he said, “That kind of takes us out of the equation.”

Still, Somers would like to see more financial analysis.

“I hate to use the term, but we’re really flying in the dark right now,” he said.

County Executive Aaron Reardon said he was told by staff members the resolution had been scrapped in favor of an ordinance that simply directs the executive to report back to the council with a range of options regarding facilities for airlines.

Reardon said that ordinance wouldn’t be addressed until Feb. 25. Cooper said there is an ordinance on the table but that the resolution regarding negotiations and the terminal is still on the agenda for Wednesday.

“No one has said let’s pull it,” he said. “I didn’t authorize pulling it.”

Reardon said he didn’t sign off on either the resolution or the ordinance.

“The ordinance again punts the issue further off in to the future and again it’s an abdication of the responsibility of the council to set the parameters for negotiation,” Reardon said. “We need a decision, we need some action.”

Cooper said the council has been talking to Reardon about the issues it wants to see addressed.

“We’ve been talking about our parameters with the executive’s office for at least two or three months,” he said. Allegiant Air first came to the county with its proposal last May, “and we’ve been talking about what we want to see in the contract since that time.”

Cooper and Reardon also disagreed about what’s in the ordinance. Cooper said it directs Reardon to make a recommendation to the council, rather than bringing back a several options.

“It says, ‘Don’t bring us something you’re not willing to recommend,’” Cooper said.

Reporter Noah Haglund contributed to this story.

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