Everett’s study on Paine Field air service changes no minds

EVERETT — If they were for it before, they’re still for it now. And if they were against it before, they’re still against it now.

That was the reaction on Thursday of elected and business leaders to a new report that concluded passenger service at Paine Field would be good for Snohomish County.

The city of Everett paid Thomas/Lane &Associates, a Seattle consulting firm, $70,000 to weigh the pros and cons of commercial air service at the county-owned airport. The report was released Wednesday.

“There’s nothing there that surprises me,” said Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, an opponent of airline service at Paine Field. He noted that some elected Everett officials have expressed their preference individually in support of air service, though not yet as a group.

“If they do a study, what do you think’s going to come out of it?” Marine said. “If SOC (Save Our Communities, a Mukilteo opponent group) does a study, what do you think’s going to come out of it?”

Others, notably in the business community, said the study supported their contention that air service would be good for the community and the economy.

“We believe this makes sense; we think this is a viable use of the property. It’s a county property that should be utilized at more than 46 percent,” said Greg Tisdel, owner of Tiz’s Doors in Everett. He’s a member of the Private Enterprise Coalition, a business advocacy group that has come out in favor of passenger flights.

The consultant estimates that Paine Field, which primarily serves Boeing operations and smaller, private aircraft, is operating at 45 percent to 50 percent capacity.

Now, the Everett City Council is planning its next move.

The 40-page report is touted by Everett as the first real objective analysis that attempts to untangle the thorny issue of passenger flights at the airport.

The county owns and operates the airport, but it has no legal authority to stop passenger flights as long as it accepts aviation funding from the federal government.

The airport is sandwiched between Mukilteo and Everett. And while Everett doesn’t have authority on passenger flights either, some council members argue it is important symbolically for the city — the county seat and its largest city — to take a stand.

“I think it would show a lack of leadership, after spending $70,000 on this study, if we didn’t come to some sort of conclusion,” Everett City Councilman Arlan Hatloe said.

On Thursday, the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, which represents 700 members, voted in favor of commercial air service at Paine Field. The vote affirmed a similar position taken by the chamber in 2005.

The Everett City Council is scheduled to take up the issue again at its July 30 meeting.

“It’s great to have an airport within our community, but I’m of the firm belief that we have no say in it,” said City Councilman Ron Gipson, who in October voted against the $70,000 study. “In today’s economy, why are we spending money on something we have no control over?”

Councilman Shannon Affholter praised the report, but added that he isn’t convinced a resolution will have any real effect.

“There’s only so much the city of Everett can do,” he said. “We can come out in support of commercial flights, but ultimately, it’s up to the county.”

Council President Drew Nielsen said the council is still digesting the new information and has not yet decided if it should go so far as to create a resolution supporting commercial air service.

Still, he said the report should speak for itself.

“Having produced the information, which is well-­researched and solid, we have contributed to the discussion,” Nielsen said.

The firm that did the Everett study has worked both sides of 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.

Opponents of commercial flights at Paine Field are fighting back with their own consultant, Democratic strategist Ron Dotzauer, who runs the Seattle firm Strategies 360.

The city of Mukilteo, which last year set aside $250,000 for potential battles over airport service, last week hired Dotzauer’s firm for $97,000, Marine said. Mukilteo likely will get a small contribution from Edmonds, which, like Mukilteo, has approved a resolution against air service. Mukilteo also is hoping to get some funding from the county.

Strategies 360 is now engaged in a phone survey of 500 people throughout Everett and south Snohomish County. It also plans research on airports and noise; to work to create a “broad-based coalition” to fight passenger flights; to lobby federal elected officials; and increase publicity and visibility for their cause.

The survey is expected to be finished sometime next week, Dotzauer said.

“We’ll release the poll so everybody sees it,” he said. “There’ll be total transparency. You’ll see the questions, you’ll see the responses. It’ll be there for everyone to see. Every piece of the research will be released.”

Dotzauer said he’s particularly interested in the opinions of those who live in Everett.

Commercial flight opponents, including Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan — a former Mukilteo mayor — and Marine suggested that Everett residents’ sentiments on passenger flights might not fall in line with the Everett study’s conclusions.

They noted that part of the western end of the city is under Paine Field’s flight paths.

“I think they need to go out and talk to those neighborhoods about that before they go out and pass a resolution, that’s just my advice,” Sullivan said.

“I’m sure they’ll start hearing from some of their constituents,” Marine said.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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