The reality of FAA’s decision

By Save Our Communities | Feb 06, 2013

Mukilteo formally appealed the FAA's final Environmental Assessment. Through Mayor Joe Marine’s efforts, at least one other city will join the lawsuit (Edmonds). In addition, Save Our Communities is joining the lawsuit along with some of SOC's board members as private citizens.

We're proud of Mukilteo's efforts and feel the fight has begun to hold the FAA accountable for its flawed environmental review. Rather than adopt the FAA’s findings, Snohomish County should perform its own independent study.

While some County Council members have expressed concerns and agree with SOC, several others remain unconvinced. We are aware of some erroneous arguments (myths) used to push the flawed study through the environmental review process.

SOC has identified 10 popular myths and provided the reality about the FEA issued by the FAA for Paine Field:

Myth 1: The county can limit flights at Paine Field.

The FEA’s Project Description includes a Part 139 Operating Certificate, requiring, by law, the admission of any air carrier at any time. (See Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C. § 41713; Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, 49 U.S.C. § 47521, et seq.)

Myth 2: The FEA identified all the impacts and mitigation and the county won’t have to pay any mitigation costs.

The FAA failed to ensure an adequate environmental analysis in part based on an incredibly limited scope of work that failed to include all reasonable, foreseeable and cumulative impacts associated with initiating unrestricted scheduled air service at Paine Field.

The minimized scope of study also minimized identification of all impacts and, thus, all mitigation costs. If the FEA is allowed to stand, the county, cities, and taxpayers will have to pay ever-growing mitigation costs as scheduled service increases.

The manifest potential for significant environmental impacts associated with opening a fourth scheduled service runway in the region should have required a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to identify all impacts AND mitigation.

Instead, the FAA chose a minimally scoped EA that does not comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The FEA should be rejected and not adopted under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which requires identification of possible environmental impacts that may result from governmental decisions.

Myth 3: The county won’t have any exposure if it fast-tracks SEPA.

The city of Mukilteo is appealing the FEA exposing its fatal flaws and holding the FAA accountable. If the county fast-tracked SEPA compliance by accepting a flawed FEA, then the county would be exposed to legal and political challenges.

Myth 4: The county can limit flights by limiting the size of the terminal.

The county’s strategy to limit flights by limiting the size of the terminal will be undermined by FAA pressure to accommodate terminal expansions over time with coercive use of grant fund threats. In addition, third parties can pay to expand the terminal.

The FEA limited the terminal expansion segment of the Project Description, and its associated analyses, to the 29,350-foot modular terminal. However, the FEA also plainly acknowledges that the airport’s approved Airport Layout Plan (ALP), the only document guiding airport planning, still contains provision for a 30,000 square foot permanent terminal, as well as the “modular terminal.”

The modular terminal alone (Appendix Q, Letter L, p. L.102), as well as the potential combined coverage of the two that remains unanalyzed, will allow for far greater numbers of gates than reported in the FEA.

Myth 5: The county should do anything to retain FAA discretionary funding.

The FAA has coerced (blackmailed) the county into believing they have to build a terminal. The FAA threatened to withhold all future “discretionary” grant awards UNLESS the county proceeds with terminal construction and continues to push for scheduled air service.

Myth 6: Boeing will leave the area if FAA federal funds are lost.

Really? Federal funding since 1945 for Paine Field pales in comparison to aerospace manufacturing investment and activities. Paine Field is at “zero” risk of losing FAA grant funding unless airline(s) complained about a lack of good faith negotiations and the FAA substantiated those complaints. No complaints have been made.

If that happened, the FAA would investigate and IF substantiated, the county would be given ample opportunities to address it. So the threat of losing funds is a baseless attempt to push the county into promoting scheduled service instead of legally discouraging it.

Would elected officials really allow the FAA to play games on grant funding and would Boeing actually vacate the area and abandon its infrastructure, employment base, suppliers and other stakeholders over a baseless threat to withhold relatively small amounts of grant money?

Myth 7: Aerospace jobs are not threatened.

Disagree. Scheduled air service will grow and so will the demands of the aerospace community. At some point one will encroach on the other. If aerospace loses, we will sacrifice high paying high skilled jobs for low-wage commuting jobs and cannibalize Sea-Tac at the same time. It makes no sense.

Myth 8: The FAA properly forecasted demand.

No. The FAA improperly forecasted demand and solely relied on conflicted information from airline applicants.

The FEA improperly segmented the operational portion of the four-part project description by limiting the impacts to low startup activity levels proposed by two air carriers. The FAA failed to comply with NEPA, which requires full identification and consideration of potential and cumulative impacts.

The potential activity levels with changing Paine Field’s role are akin to looking at the maximum activity of a new commercial airport or new runway at SeaTac. The FEA failed to analyze the reasonable, foreseeable, potential and cumulative impacts of increasing operations over and above the initial proposals of two airlines.

However, the airport’s Master Plan already anticipates much greater levels of operation than are analyzed in the FEA. The ALP includes more than sufficient current and proposed terminal facilities to accommodate Master Plan projections and accepted methodologies exist to forecast future operations and their impacts.

Myth 9: The FEA was scoped properly.

No. The FEA failed to scope the flight activity and timeframe properly thereby minimizing downstream impact analysis. The FEA looked out only five years blindly accepting airlines proposed initial activity levels as a proper scope.

Even the capacity of the proposed two gate terminal was not included in the impact study and was instead relegated to an appendix discussion with no consideration for of the full capacity of scheduled service at the airport given FAA rules that don’t allow local restrictions.

This limited scope skews the entire assessment, minimizing impacts on the environment, health, socio-economic, schools and so on. The FEA also skewed the baseline for analysis by “piece-mealing the project:” future additional studies would be based on an ever-increasing baseline thus minimizing cumulative impact analysis.

Myth 10: The county won’t jeopardize its contract with Boeing.

The county’s 1966 contract with Boeing provides unfettered “through the fence” access to Paine Field and its runway. If Boeing’s access is limited (e.g. through the growth of scheduled air service), then Boeing operations would be negatively impacted and the county would be exposed.

The FAA is unlikely to be flexible given its rules and myopic stance on Paine Field. The county would be forced to choose between its obligations with Boeing or complying with federal law. Either way, the county loses.

In conclusion, the county should NOT adopt the FEA when complying with State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements. Instead, the county should conduct its own SEPA with a properly expanded scope to assess direct and indirect costs to mitigate the impacts.

These costs would likely prove to be significantly higher than those projected under the FEA. The airlines, not the taxpayers, should bear such mitigation costs since the FAA’s rules allow direct and indirect costs to be passed onto the airlines.

A failure to do this represents a free subsidy to the airlines and an unacceptable social, economic, and environmental liability to the taxpayers and municipalities of Snohomish County.

Save Our Communities is a group that opposes passenger flights at Paine Field. For more information go to

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