Panel will study Paine Field future

After a slow start, it’s full speed ahead for a group of people to decide the one big question about Paine Field:

Should regularly scheduled commercial flights be discouraged at Snohomish County’s airport?

Mukilteo Mayor Don Doran, who opposes airport expansion, and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, whose advisers tell him commercial flights are a good idea, will lead the effort to finally decide how much sway a 27-year-old document has over the future of the airport.

That document is the 1978 mediated role determination. Some claim it bans commercial flights at Paine Field. Others say it’s too old to have any influence on today’s decisions.

Following through with a promise made in May, County Executive Aaron Reardon met with Doran and Stephanson earlier this week, setting in motion an aggressive schedule to study the agreement.

Reardon and the two mayors hope to have a committee in place by the end of August. Led by Doran and Stephanson, the committee will attempt to issue a report within a year.

Reardon says he opposes airport expansion. But neither opposition nor confusion over the aging agreement should stop Snohomish County from having a healthy debate on commercial air service, he said.

“We want to have a credible, deliberate and open discussion of the mediated role determination,” Reardon said. “Hopefully, this panel will have some recommendations to make to the county executive.”

Reardon’s office is finishing up a study on what it would take to build a terminal at Paine Field, and last year completed a study on the potential market for commercial air service. He said both studies were done at the request of the County Council and former Executive Bob Drewel.

The market study suggested that the airport could support regional air service, saying Paine Field could capture up to 30 percent of the 7,000 Snohomish County residents who fly out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport every day.

How many of those 7,000 people would fly out of Snohomish County depends on how many departures and destinations Paine Field offers, the report said.

Although the terminal study is not complete, an early look says a bare-bones terminal that could handle two 70-seat jets at the same time would cost $3.2 million.

Reardon said the terminal study would be presented to the County Council this fall. The council is waiting for the study before it takes up the airport expansion issue, County Council President Gary Nelson said.

A computer analysis by The Herald found that about 110,000 people – nearly one-sixth of the county’s population – live within three miles of Paine Field. The area includes all of Mukilteo, much of south Everett, the west side of Silver Lake, unincorporated areas north of Lynnwood and Edmonds, and a portion of Mill Creek.

Prior to this week, Doran was frustrated that the committee on airport expansionwasn’t coming together. Still strongly opposed to expansion of commercial service at Paine Field, Doran is singing a different tune after meeting with Reardon last week.

“I’m encouraged with the comprehensiveness of the goal the county executive has set for this group,” he said. “This will help us understand where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Reardon first offered the County Council the option to appoint members to the committee. When they didn’t respond, he decided that he, Doran and Stephanson would select the panel.

Stephanson said he has a neutral position on airport expansion, but a public committee that advises him on Everett issues has suggested that bringing commercial air service to the airport could stimulate the city’s economy.

The mediated role, as written in 1978, encouraged air taxi and commuter service, but strongly discouraged expanding supplemental and charter air passenger service.

Under federal law, the county can’t ban commercial service at the airport. If it does, it would lose federal funding that helps pay for current operations.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or

What’s next

By mid-August, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, Mukilteo Mayor Don Doran and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson will come up with a list of names of those who will sit on a committee to study whether bringing commercial air service to Paine Field is allowable under a 1978 agreement.

Co-chairmen Doran and Stephanson expect to hold their first meeting by the end of August. The schedule allows for a meeting once every three weeks. The goal is to give Reardon a report within a year.

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