Everett to take a $70,000 look into Paine Field

EVERETT — The effort to bring commercial passenger flights to Paine Field is a sharp political wedge dividing allegiances in Snohomish County.

Mukilteo has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure airlines stay out of the airport. South county cities also oppose commercial flights. Meanwhile a countywide business group has spent its own money to push for an expanded role for the airport that is next to the world’s largest jet assembly plant.

Everett, the county seat and the largest city in the county, has remained silent on the issue.

That could change soon if the City Council today approves a study to take a closer look at the viability of commercial passenger flights.

“We’re trying to get our arms around some information that we believe is unbiased so that we can make a decision that is rational,” Everett City Council President Brenda Stonecipher said. “The proponents are only looking at the benefits and not the costs, the other side is only looking at the costs and not the benefits.”

The council will consider paying up to $70,000 to Thomas/Lane Associates of Seattle for an independent report on commercial flights at the airport.

It will scrutinize assumptions from previous studies including a claim that Paine Field could function as a secondary regional airport for flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

It will also test a 2003 federal forecast projecting the potential demand for nearly 11,000 passenger flights a year at Paine Field by 2008.

“We need to do some homework, and with it, separate the facts from fiction,” said Everett City Councilman Arlan Hatloe, a retired businessman who lives under the airport’s flight path near Mukilteo Boulevard. “We don’t want to come out and shoot from the hip without good numbers and good facts.”

If the study shows a substantial opportunity for commercial expansion, then it would move to a second phase, weighing the benefits to businesses, residents, tourism and city coffers with the potentially adverse effects on neighborhoods surrounding Paine Field, increased noise levels, pollution, impacts on property values and the cost of providing city services.

“We’d just like to have another opinion weighing in,” said Lanie McMullin, Everett’s economic development director, whose office is recommending the council approve the contract. Thomas/Lane Associates “is a very fair and analytical team.”

McMullin pointed out that the firm has been hired by people in the past who were for or against airport expansions. It was the team behind a 1997 report delivered at the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference that found expansion of Sea-Tac International Airport was good for the regional economy, but the costs were disproportionately borne by the communities surrounding the airport, including Burien, Des Moines and Federal Way.

Passenger service has not been formally proposed for Paine Field. Some businesspeople in the county have pushed for the idea, saying it would be much more convenient for Snohomish County residents and that it would boost the local economy.

Opponents, led by neighborhood groups and cities in south Snohomish County, say noise from passenger flights would hurt their quality of life.

The Private Enterprise Coalition has been out front in pushing for air passenger service. The group announced last spring it would spend $100,000 over the next year to promote passenger flights. Much of that money, members said, would be spent on a study detailing the economic advantages of commercial service at Paine Field.

Their study is still a few months from being done, member Greg Tisdel said.

“We’re very encouraged by the city’s actions, and we’re ready to look at the results,” said Tisdel, owner of Tiz’s Doors. “This is the first chance of many to prove which information is correct, which we love.”

This past summer, the Private Enterprise Coalition launched a Web site, flyfromeverett.org, to promote its cause. On the site, the group lists seven smaller airports around the nation, including one in the Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington, that it believes could serve as models for limited flights from Paine Field. The Web site states that the Private Enterprise Coalition would not support air service at Paine if it means the airport would grow to become a major hub.

This is the “slippery slope” opponents point to when they say flights should not be allowed at the airport, that regional flights would lead to national flights and a larger, louder Paine Field.

Such an airport would devalue property, eat into tax revenues and require more be spent on roads to the tune of $1.5 billion, according to Save Our Communities, the Mukilteo-based group that has led the opposition.

The information Everett is using as its starting point didn’t take any of this into account, let alone effects on the environment, schools or health, Save Our Communities president Greg Hauth said.

“All they’re doing is revalidating a very biased and flawed marketing study,” Hauth said. “We challenge them to do a true feasibility study, a cost-benefit analysis.”

Hauth noted that elected county officials have said they would not support spending public money to expand roads or the Paine Field terminal for passenger airlines.

“Let the city of Everett taxpayers pay for that if they want it that badly,” Hauth said. “If Everett wants it, then let Everett pay for it.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com

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