Permits unlikely to delay Boeing’s 777X expansion

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. plans to add at least 1 million square feet to its Everett facility to make the wings for its 777X airplane.

Despite the huge undertaking, however, officials say the local impact of that growth will be minimal, and they expect the new structure to pass quickly through permitting, avoiding even a public comment period.

The city of Everett isn’t doing an end run around state laws that require municipalities to review potential environmental effects of development. Officials reviewed the potential impact of industrial development in southwest part of the city, near Paine Field, in a plan approved in 1997. That earlier work has enabled city officials to expedite permitting for about 80 projects since then.

That plan and an earlier environmental impact statement from 1991 for the original 777 production line will allow Everett to approve building permits within four weeks of Boeing filing an application — as the company doesn’t apply to use the land for some use not allowed under current zoning, said Allan Giffen, Everett’s planning director. That is what the city promised the Chicago-based company in Washington’s bid for the 777X production line.

Snohomish County, too, promised to expedite permit applications from Boeing but didn’t give a specific time frame.

The new building will house carbon-fiber-composite fabrication for the 777X’s wings. Boeing has said the big new factory will be next to the existing assembly plant.

The company hasn’t decided where on the Boeing site or at Paine Field it will actually assemble the wings. Final assembly of the jetliner will take place in the main plant, where Boeing builds the 747, 767, KC-46A, the classic 777 and the 787.

The 1997 review “analyzed the potential impacts of build-out of the southwest Everett industrial area with all uses permitted in the applicable zones, including aircraft manufacturing uses,” according to a report published last summer by the 777X Permit Streamlining Task Force, which was convened by Gov. Jay Inslee and chaired by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.

In December, the city amended the 1997 environmental impact statement to include wing fabrication as permitted under heavy industrial zoning.

If a company wants to use the land for something that isn’t allowed by the zoning, “that’s a totally different process” that would require a full environmental review and likely amendment of the city’s comprehensive plan, Giffen said.

City staff still review projects to ensure they meet the parameters of earlier environmental reviews, he said. So long as they comply, the city can issue a permit in four weeks, compared to the three or more months required to do a separate environmental review, Giffen said.

“There’s a difference between getting permits out quickly and not following the law,” Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan said.

He was mayor of Mukilteo in the early 1990s and was on the mitigation committee for Boeing’s expansion of the Everett facility to handle the original 777.

“If this were a raw piece of property with wetlands on it, that would be a different story. But that’s not the case here,” Sullivan said.

Parking is another issue. Today some 40,000 people work for Boeing in Everett, though not all simultaneously.

“Parking’s a challenge today,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said during the press conference when the company announced that the 777X wings would be made in Everett.

The company already has maxed out on 21,000 permitted parking spaces. A small number of spaces will have to be removed to make room for the wing building. Limiting the number of spaces is meant to lessen congestion on roadways.

Boeing and Everett are already studying the issue and are considering alternatives to simply increasing on-site parking, Giffen said.

“They could do things like staggering when they start shifts or timing of other events on site. They might emphasize some vanpooling or carpooling,” he said.

The trick is to not increase the number of cars coming and going from Boeing during the afternoon peak travel time, which is about 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Giffen said.

If that can’t be avoided, Boeing might have to pay to make up for the impact, he said. “There’s an impact fee with a value of about a $1,000 value for each additional trip” during that time.

In the 1990s, Boeing paid about $49 million to mitigate the effects of expanding its Everett facility for 777 assembly, which meant thousands more employees driving to and from the site. The city used the money, which added up to more than $50 million with interest, along with federal and state grants worth about $250 million to expand existing streets and to build new ones to handle the increase in traffic.

Reporter Noah Haglund contributed to this story. Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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