Progress on Paine Field terminal makes tiny step forward

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive John Lovick’s administration has recommended approving an agreement that could allow a New York company to build a commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field.

Propeller Airports wants to build a terminal to handle about five flights per day to regional destinations.

The company announced plans in June. Negotiations with the county began in late October. The first public details emerged Friday.

“We’re excited the process is moving forward,” Propeller CEO Brett Smith said Friday. “It’s something that’s going to create travel options and jobs and economic activity for the region.”

What’s on the table now is an option to lease property for a two-gate passenger terminal. It’s up to the County Council whether to grant the approval.

A new agreement would kick off a long process — one that comes against the backdrop of a decades-long fight over allowing commercial flights at the county-run airport.

The lease agreement is far from a sure thing.

First, the County Council would need to sign off. Then, the project would have to clear an environmental analysis. It also would need to survive a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration to thwart bringing passenger flights to Paine Field. That is being pursued by nearby cities and neighbors.

Airport staff are preparing to give their first presentation about the lease proposal during the County Council’s 10:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday.

A vote is tentatively scheduled for March 2, Council Chairman Dave Somers said.

If things move forward, Propeller would be responsible for building and operating the terminal. The company doesn’t expect to have a timeline until next year. It’s also not advertising which airlines it hopes to attract.

The lease option would give Propeller 36 months to design the project and complete required environmental reviews. During that time, it would have the exclusive right to the property.

The per-month cost to Propeller during the lease-option period would be $3,575.53. That’s 10 percent of the eventual monthly lease of $35,755.30.

Under the proposed terms, the county would receive 2.5 percent of gross revenues during the first four years of terminal operations. The amount would double to 5 percent for the remainder of the lease.

The agreement also spells out hundreds of thousands of dollars in required fees for traffic mitigation, stormwater and more.

The FAA requires the county to make reasonable accommodations for passenger flights. Failing to negotiate a lease in good faith could leave the airport ineligible for grants it needs to keep running.

Opposition to commercial passenger service at Paine Field runs high in Mukilteo and Edmonds. The cities, along with the Save Our Communities group, had been fighting the idea in federal court.

At issue is a federal aviation study from 2012 concluding that noise, traffic and pollution from commercial jets would not harm nearby communities. It looked at 23 flights per day, far more than what Propeller envisions.

Paine Field already handles about 300 daily flights for general aviation and aerospace companies. That uses about one-third of the airport’s capacity.

The federal lawsuit against the FAA has been stayed. If the county approves an agreement with Propeller, it could resume.

Depending on the outcome, the terminal project could proceed based on environmental analysis already done by the FAA.

Alternatively, the court could order further analysis, which could delay or even ground the proposal.

Once the environmental process is complete, the county and Propeller could enter into a proposed lease. Only then could the county issue a building permit.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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