Attorney ‘confident’ city will win appeal
Mukilteo’s attorney said she is “very confident” that the city will win its case against the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mukilteo City Council voted on Dec. 17 to appeal the FAA decision to allow commercial passenger service out of the Snohomish County Airport. The appeal will be filed in February in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
After nearly three years, the FAA’s ruling concluded that permitting commercial flights at the airport wouldn’t significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution.
The agency’s environmental study of the impacts of adding up to 23 flights per day had reported the same findings: That environmentally there would be “no significant impact.”
Aviation attorney Dr. Barbara Lichman said she is confident Mukilteo has a good case against that ruling.
“Scheduled aircraft coming out ever three or four minutes all day is very different than having a test facility,” she said. “I’m not saying that Paine Field will ever get that big, but theoretically it could.”
“The specter of an airport like Seattle in your backyard is not a pretty picture.”
Mayor Joe Marine said that after many conversations with Lichman and the council on their case, he feels the same.
“I’m very confident in her,” he said. “We certainly wouldn’t be spending the money if we thought that there wasn’t a case.”
Mukilteo has fought commercial air expansion at Paine Field throughout the environmental review process. It has set aside a legal fund of more than $150,000 to fight the FAA.
The city hired Lichman to represent its interests in 2008. She helped the city comment on the FAA’s draft and final environmental reviews. Now, she will also challenge the FAA’s decision.
“I don’t do it unless I feel very, very confident,” Lichman said. “However, having said that, there are never any guarantees. However, we’re quite confident we have a good case.”
For a case like Mukilteo’s, Lichman – who specializes in airport-related issues – said she draws from past experiences, including these:
• In 2009, Lichman challenged in the D.C. Circuit the FAA’s environmental review for an East Coast Airspace Redesign. Her team convinced the judges that the review did not contain adequate air quality analysis.
• In 2006, she appealed the national Environmental Protection Agency in the 6th Circuit over an expansion project that called for a new runway. Lichman’s team recovered some compensation for the project.
• In 1983, Lichman’s team challenged the state environmental review on a project at John Wayne Airport and achieved the most restrictive operational controls on any airport in the United States, including a 10-hour night curfew, limits to the size of the ramps, and restrictions to the number of passengers, terminals and gates at the airport.
However, Lichman noted that Congress has since passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which prohibits settlements of that nature and extent – unless the FAA approves of them.
“So there are never going to be anymore restrictions the way John Wayne is,” Lichman said. “It won’t happen anymore.”
Lichman said, in this case, a win for Mukilteo would mean that the FAA would see reason and agree to mitigate for Paine Field expansion.
“These cases are not so much a question of winning or losing, it’s a question of can we settle for some mitigation or compensation or both?” she said. “That’s really where we like to be.
“We don’t glory in making the life miserable of airports; we glory in justice for both parties. Airports have a right to grow and to prosper, but so do the cities around them, so that’s what we try to do. We try to equalize that.”