New FAA study could delay Paine Field terminal

FAA feels reevaluation is needed after original 2012 study
By Brandon Gustafson | Jun 06, 2018

The expected grand opening of the new Propeller airport terminal at Paine Field may come later than the originally anticipated fall 2018 opening.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced late last week that it has started a supplemental environmental assessment for the new terminal.

The FAA released a statement, citing an increase in proposed daily flights, as well as different types of aircrafts, as reasons for reopening the environmental study, which had originally been completed in 2012. That study found that a new terminal would not have any significant impact on noise, air pollution, or traffic.

“In 2012, the FAA completed an environmental assessment (EA) and issued a finding of no significant impact/Record of Decision for an initial proposal to begin commercial service at the airport,” the statement said. “However, air carrier service never began there. Today, there are new proposals for commercial service involving more airlines, more aircraft operations, and a different fleet mix than what was originally proposed.”

The original 2012 study examined a maximum of 12 flights per day as well as different airlines, compared to the currently planned maximum of 24 takeoffs and 24 landings (48 total) by Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

“The supplemental EA will involve a review of the environmental impacts associated with these proposed changes,” the FAA’s statement said. “The FAA and the subject airlines have established a scope and schedule for the supplemental Paine Field EA. The FAA will release the results of its preliminary analysis for public review and a 30-day comment period before making any environmental determination.”

Possible outcomes include a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which means the added flights and different aircraft will not have a significant environmental impact. Another possible outcome of the reopened study is that the FAA will determine an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required.

Commercial service cannot begin at Paine Field before the FAA makes its environmental determination.

The timetable for the study isn’t currently known, but according to the FAA’s statement, “A supplemental EA generally can take between six to 18 months, depending on the nature and complexity of the project and the analyses required.”

Paine Field spokesman Scott North said construction of the terminal will still likely be completed this September, and flights will begin once the study is completed.

“The commercial operations will start when the FAA completes this process,” he said.

North also said the FAA’s decision to once again look at environmental impacts of the terminal is not surprising.

“The county, FAA, and Propeller all expected something like this was going to happen,” he said.

North acknowledged a 2017 review letter by Tom Barnett, a project manager for Snohomish County, in which Barnett said the county’s Planning and Development Services had some concerns with the FAA’s 2012 assessment.

“PDS is concerned that reliance upon the Final NEPA Environmental Assessment prepared by the FAA relating to that Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and Record of Decision (ROD) as issued by the FAA dated December 2012, may not provide reasonably sufficient information to evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposal (new terminal facility), upon the elements of noise, and transportation,” Barnett said in the letter.

Barnett said the 2012 assessment appeared to recognize that there was potential for more flights and operations out of the airport beyond what the FAA had originally studied.

“To clarify what PDS is requesting, we are not requesting that you provide further environmental evaluation based on some speculative analysis of future commercial flight operations at the airport as a whole,” Barnett said. “Rather, we are asking that you provide a limited expansion on the evaluation of the potential environmental impacts to the elements of noise and traffic as they relate to the reasonably foreseeable ‘full’ utilization of the capacity of the proposed terminal facility to serve commercial flight operations.”

North said if the FAA completes its regulatory process and it is approved, that the terminal will likely begin day-to-day operations this winter.

Propeller released a statement, and said they will still be ready to start flights in the fall, and they’re just waiting on FAA approval.

“The county and Propeller have received all of the necessary approvals, and we will be ready to provide commercial service this fall,” Propeller’s statement said. “The FAA has already approved commercial service at Paine Field, and all that remains is for the FAA to approve the specific airlines and their aircraft.”

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson was not surprised about the FAA’s decision to conduct a supplemental environmental assessment.

“We talked with Alaska Airlines last October about the work to get the supplemental EA done, which we knew was required for the final step in certifying the airport,” she said. “In January, they let us know they expected documents to be ready for public review in August, and if successful, service to begin toward the end of 2018. So, I don’t see this as a delay, but just the normal environmental review process.”

Mukilteo had legal battles opposing the new terminal in the past. Those efforts ended when the state Supreme Court declined to review the city’s appeal of Snohomish County’s March 2015 lease agreement with Propeller Airports prior to completing an environmental review of plans to construct the terminal. The court cited the FAA’s 2012 assessment that found no significant impact on air pollution, noise, or traffic.

Mukilteo spent $624,215 starting in 2008 challenging plans for commercial air service at Paine Field and conducting its own environmental review. More than $300,000 of that money was spent on legal appeals starting in 2013.

Despite the prior legal history, Gregerson said the city will not be fighting in the courtroom anymore.

“The Paine Field Reserve Fund was zeroed out for 2018, with the final $32,230 transferred to the Transportation Benefit District fund,” she said.

 

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