Paine Field decision delayed -- again

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 06, 2012

Two airlines wrote letters to Snohomish County in 2008 asking to fly commercial airplanes from Paine Field.

The Federal Aviation Administration studied the environmental impacts of adding scheduled passenger air service by Horizon Air and Allegiant Air to the Snohomish County airport in an Environmental Assessment. A draft EA was done in December 2009. Public comments were collected in January and February 2010.

Officials with the FAA said they'd review the comments and reach a decision in a few months.

They have been reviewing these comments ever since.

After more than two years, supporters of commercial flights at Paine Field are tired of waiting for an answer. The group Citizens' Right to Fly from Paine Field is asking supporters to send letters pressing the FAA to release the final EA as soon as possible.

“We’ve been going though this for so many years, and it’s time to take the next step,” said Todd Brunner, co-chair of the group, which supports commercial passenger service.

“It’s frustrating, but understandable. There have been budget issues. We just think it’s time that it be brought to a conclusion.”

The FAA has rescheduled its decision for release in mid-September, according to Mike Fergus, a spokesperson for the administration. Once the final EA is released, a 30-day comment period will follow, and a final determination will be issued at the end of November, Fergus said.

The delay is due to the time required to respond thoroughly to more than 900 comments received on the draft EA and expand the study of environmental impact to more flights, Fergus said.

FAA officials have moved back the scheduled release of the final EA release several times. Asked how certain he was that the administration would meet its new deadline, Fergus said: “All I can say is, we fully intend to meet the schedule.”

In 2009, the FAA oversaw a consultant’s draft EA that addressed the potential impact of six flights per day by Horizon and 10 per week by Allegiant in five years.

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the EA examines the impact the flights would impose in the area surrounding the airport, including noise, air quality and traffic.

The draft EA concluded that the flights would be of no significant impact.

Critics of the draft EA said it considered only the flight projections of the two airlines and that it failed to address the possibility of additional flights in the future.

In 2010, the FAA expanded the scope of its study to review the impact of twice the number of flights per day, about 12.

Greg Hauth, vice president of Save Our Communities, a group that opposes the flights at Paine Field, said the delay isn’t a problem if it means the FAA is being thorough.

“We’d rather have them take their time and get to the right answer slowly than get to the wrong answer quickly,” he said.

Hauth said the new scope of the EA is an improvement, but that they should be reviewing the impacts of far more than 12 flights a day.

SOC suspects the FAA is limiting the scope of the EA so it won’t need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, which would require deeper analysis of the environmental impacts of commercial flights.

“We’re really concerned that the FAA is trying through somewhat incorrect analysis and tortured logic to come up with a finding of no significant impact,” Hauth said.

“What that basically does is let the airlines come in for free without any mitigation costs. What that means is the taxpayer ends up paying.”

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