Attorney ‘confident’ city will win appeal

By Sara Bruestle | Dec 26, 2012

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.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: John T Baker | Dec 26, 2012 22:11

So Dr. Lichman and Joe Marine are "very confident" of just exactly what?  It seems that in almost 30 years of this kind of effort, Dr. Lichman can cite only three rather wimpy examples of "wins" (I assume that if she had better examples, she would have cited those.).  One was a win which, by her own admission, will never be repeated. The second was a win which only got "some" additional compensation (not saying how much, of course).  The third was a win that only got some air issues further analyzed (and I wonder how that worked out for her client).

I would venture a guess that in these three cases, as well as all of the others she has undoubtedly pursued (as a "specialist" in this area of practice) over these years and lost, the real winner has been Dr. Lichman.  You see, whether she "wins" the City's case or not, she'll be sipping lattes in Starbucks for many a morning to come...she may even be able to stretch that $150k budget of Mayor Marine's into, who knows, $500k?

She is admitting that the chances are nil that commercial traffic will be stopped at Payne Field.  And so we are down to looking for compensation?  But just what compensation do you get for "no impact".  And how could a judge award compensation from airline(s) without also stipulating compensation from the County and/or from Boeing?  Whatever minor impact there is from the additional small commercial aircraft traffic certainly shouldn't bear the total "mitigation" burden when Boeing is flying 747s in and out of Paine Field several times a day...would that make sense to you?  Really now?  Oh come on now; you know better!

Folks, the only "compensation" involved in this effort will be from the City to  Dr. Lichman.  It's her "cottage industry".   Some people weave mittens to sell in the farmer's market and some people go around suing airports.  It's a good gig, if you can get it.  The only problem is finding a client that is gullible enough to foot the bill.   Along comes Mukilteo's Mayor and Council with money just hanging out of their pockets!

I'll tell you what...for every dollar of mitigation I get out of this effort [for all that terrible suffering I endure as a citizen] I'll be waiting down at Starbucks...and if somebody will just bring along another $2.57, I'll have enough to buy at least one latte with Dr. Lichman?  Mayor Marine, can I count on you?


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