Mukilteo, Edmonds to fight Paine Field flights

MUKILTEO — The staunchest opponent of commercial air service at Paine Field has followed through on a promise to fight the plan in court.

The cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds, along with an activist group and two individuals, have filed a notice with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that they intend to challenge a federal decision to allow flights at the airport.

The papers filed with the court carry no substance in terms of arguments but get the parties’ collective foot in the door for legal action, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said.

A hearing could potentially be scheduled for April, said Barbara Lichman, an attorney based in Irvine, Calif. who filed the motion Thursday for the cities and other appellants.

She said the court usually holds its hearings in San Francisco, Seattle or Pasadena, Calif.

A Federal Aviation Administration environmental review determined in December that the 23 flights per day proposed by Allegiant Air and Horizon Air would not significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution in neighborhoods near the airport.

Mukilteo and other opponents of commercial flights have argued that the study was wrong to assess the effects of only this number of flights rather than the potential for more flights that could come from opening the airport to airline service.

“They didn’t do the job,” Lichman said of the FAA.

Mukilteo approached other south Snohomish County cities about joining the suit. Edmonds city officials have opposed commercial service for several years now.

Marine said other cities such as Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, who also have opposed flights at Paine Field, weren’t able to develop a response in time for the Feb. 2 deadline to appeal the FAA’s decision.

Also listed on the lawsuit are Save Our Communities, a Mukilteo-based group that has been fighting commercial service; Michael Moore of Mukilteo, a member of the activist group; and Victor M. Coupez, also of Mukilteo.

Despite the names of the other parties on the suit, Mukilteo is going it alone financially, Marine said.

Allegiant has proposed to start running four flights per week from Paine Field and increase to 20 over five years. Horizon asked to run 140 commuter flights per week from the airport. The two proposals combined would bring an average of 23 flights per day.

Opponents of commercial service say opening Paine Field to commercial service could eventually damage nearby neighborhoods with noise and traffic. Supporters say flights could bring jobs to the county and save valuable time for travelers.

Meanwhile, Snohomish County, as the owner of the airport, still must conduct its own environmental study and design and build a terminal.

The mere filing of the legal action does not interfere with that work, said Peter Camp, an executive director for the county in charge of the airport, in a briefing to County Council members on Monday.

Still, that work will take close to a year, just to get to the point of getting a building permit for a terminal, Camp said.

At the same time, opponents hope to get a ruling that could potentially stop work on the project sooner rather than later, Lichman said.

“There’s urgency, all right,” she said.

While most county elected officials have said they oppose commercial flights at Paine Field, they’re required to provide space to airlines if they want to continue receiving money from the federal government for airport maintenance and other projects.

Snohomish County also is required to follow the federal environmental study with its own review under state laws.

The county plans to hire separate consultants for the building design and environmental study, Camp said.

He’ll soon take bids from consultants for the work. Camp expects both to be hired by March.

The county will need outside help for the environmental work because of layoffs in the planning department, Camp said. The federal study received more than 900 comments, and if the next study receives a similar amount, planning staff would be overwhelmed, he said.

No firm price tag has been established for a terminal, though the county three years ago projected the cost at $3 million. Paine Field currently has only a small waiting area not large enough to accommodate passengers for the planned flights.

Camp said Monday a new building would be roughly 20,000 square feet in size. The design probably will cost about $500,000 and the environmental study $100,000, Camp said.

He said he’s discussing contracts with Allegiant and Horizon in which either airport parking revenue or the airlines themselves would cover the cost of the studies and terminal design and construction.

If the parking revenue does not meet expectations or if the airlines should back out of their contracts, then the airlines will be on the hook for any remaining costs, Camp said.

“We do not want to be left holding the bag with expenses,” he said.

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

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