City of Mukilteo’s appeal of airport terminal decision rejected

EVERETT — The decision was brief; its impact far reaching.

The state Supreme Court has chosen not to hear a case brought by the city of Mukilteo and the Save Our Communities advocacy group, which opposed a terminal for commercial air service at Paine Field. The lawsuit against Snohomish County and New York City-based Propeller Airports has come to an end.

In a one-page court order, Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that a panel of five justices considered on June 27 whether to hear the matter. They unanimously declined.

“It is ordered that the petition for review is denied,” the June 28 court order said.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said the city is doing what it can, despite the legal setback.

“For this case, this was our last step and I think really where the city is focused is working with Propeller and Alaska Airlines to make sure we can mitigate impacts,” the mayor said. “We hope to work with them as friendly and responsive neighbors.”

The city will make sure that Propeller lives up to commitments made during the environmental review process, she said. It also will work with Alaska Airlines on what it hopes can be a “fly friendly program” that considers flight paths and timing to limit impacts on the area.

The fight over allowing regular commercial air service at Paine Field has dragged on for decades but moved closer to reality during the past five years.

In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration concluded that about two dozen daily takeoffs and landings by passenger jets would have no significant impact on surrounding communities. An appeal by Mukilteo and Save Our Communities was rejected.

The County Council in 2015 voted 3-2 to approve a lease option with Propeller. Mukilteo and Save Our Communities soon asked the courts for review. The contract gave Propeller three years to design and secure permits for a two-gate terminal.

Under a long-term lease, the terminal would revert to county ownership at the end of the contract and Propeller will make annual rental payments to the county. Rent payments could reach more than $25 million over the term of the agreement, in addition to the county share of terminal revenues.

The company had a ground-breaking ceremony in June. A month earlier Alaska Airlines announced that it expects to begin commercial service from Paine Field in the fall of 2018.

Propeller has received a land-use permit to begin preparing the site.

“At some point, we expect for them to submit an application for a building permit for the terminal itself but they have not submitted it as of today,” Snohomish County spokesman Kent Patton said Monday.

In January, the state Court of Appeals Division denied the legal challenge by the city of Mukilteo and SOC to void the contract between Snohomish County and Propeller. The decision was spelled out in a 29-page ruling.

Among other things, Mukilteo argued that the county’s decision to execute the option “improperly builds momentum” toward “subsequent permit decisions.” The appeals court disagreed.

Mayor Gregerson said the city knew it faced long odds.

“We were always kind of David and Goliath in this situation,” she said. “We did our best.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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