Fight against Paine flights premature, Everett official says

EVERETT — An Everett city councilman has fired off a challenge to a Snohomish County councilman who is leading a fight against an airline that wants to bring commercial passenger service to Paine Field.

So far, the protest has yet to elicit a flinch.

In a strongly worded letter, city Councilman Mark Olson said County Councilman Brian Sullivan and his colleagues should reconsider their opposition to Allegiant Air’s interest in offering flights to Las Vegas.

The airline expressed interest to the county earlier this month in running two to four flights per week from Paine Field while possibly adding more flights to other West Coast cities later.

Almost immediately, Sullivan, who lives in Mukilteo; Councilman Mike Cooper, who lives in Edmonds, and County Executive Aaron Reardon issued a statement expressing opposition to regular commercial flights at the county-run airport.

A majority of the County Council pledged to avoid spending any county funds on a terminal, security, roads or other improvements needed to facilitate commercial service at Paine Field.

“It seems to me they are only listening to one set of voices, and there are certainly other voices in the county,” Olson said in an interview. “The County Council was shutting down the argument before it could even be made.”

In the letter, Olson said several local organizations have targeted commercial flights at the airport as an important economic development measure for the county.

“There are certainly ways in which the fundamental interests of those communities most directly affected can be accommodated without drawing absolute positions and fraying interlocal relations,” Olson wrote.

Sullivan and Cooper said they don’t see the majority on the council changing their minds.

“I think the council is firm in their position,” he said.

Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway have come out against passenger flights, pointing to studies that conclude that noise from jet traffic harms neighborhoods.

Everett, the county seat and the largest city in Snohomish County, has remained silent on the issue. That is expected to change soon.

In October, the Everett City Council hired a consultant for $70,000 to study commercial air service at the county-owned airport. The study, scheduled for release in late June, will weigh the benefits to businesses, residents and tourism against potential problems for neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

The Everett City Council plans to take a position for or against passenger air service at Paine Field after the study is released.

“Right now, as I see it, Everett is the only community that is attempting to proceed with some basis of solid information,” City Council President Drew Nielsen said.

While Everett ultimately does not have the authority to make a decision on air service, it is getting pressure on both sides of the issue to take a stance.

City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said it would be premature to comment without a “very rational, reasoned, information-based approach.”

She questioned what information County Council members used when they spoke out against Allegiant Air.

“There are rational decisions and there are political decisions, and unless you can see everything that everyone’s looking at, you don’t know which it is,” she said.

In Olson’s letter, he objected to County Council members’ plan to set aside up to $250,000 as a war chest to fight the airline’s proposal, possibly through fees for attorneys or consultants. Last year, Mukilteo set aside that amount for the same purpose.

“A good share of those funds derive from the city of Everett, which remains open to the idea of limited commercial aviation,” Olson wrote. “Surely, you appreciate the conflict: city of Everett residents funding both sides of the commercial aviation argument.”

Reardon has asked county legal staff to investigate the county’s options, but the proposal to set aside the funds has not been approved. Federal law does not permit airport operators that take federal funds to block commercial air traffic, but at the same time does not require an airport operator to pay for improvements that would allow it to happen.

Sullivan said many Everett neighborhoods west of Evergreen Way are affected by aircraft noise.

He said economic development in the county is best served by Paine Field keeping Boeing strong and drawing other high-tech businesses to the airport. He added that up to 9,000 acres near the airport was rezoned from heavy industrial to residential in the 1980s following an agreement between nearby cities and the county limiting the role of the airport.

“Mark and I have argued about this for 20 years,” he said.

Cooper’s strongest objection to Olson’s letter was over the Everett councilman’s suggestion that Allegiant Air’s proposal would not increase the noise level around the airport.

“They made it clear they were interested in more routes,” Cooper said. “It’s not just a route three times a week, it’s more routes.”

Federal law does not permit an airport, once flights have begun, to severely limit the number of flights or the number of carriers.

Still, Olson said the slippery-slope argument is “intellectually lazy.”

Opponents of the Navy’s homeport in Everett made similar claims, saying it would turn Everett’s waterfront into a massive base, he said.

He said there’s nothing preventing local officials from imposing time restrictions and other covenants and conditions on air service.

“People need to address the proposal that is here right now,” he said. “And it seems to me extremely modest.”

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