Complaint Challenges New Runway at Seattle Airport

AUGUST 2, 1996

The much-anticipated legal battle to block a proposed third runway at Seattle Tacoma International Airport began today when the Airport Communities Coalition filed a 16-count complaint against the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Port of Seattle.

"The regional council and the port have thumbed their noses at the law from the day they made a political decision to expand Sea-Tac," said Perry Rosen, an attorney with Cutler & Stanfield, a Washington, D.C. law firm that represents ACC. "They might be able to get away with that kind of arrogance in the political arena, but the courts will look past politics to the law. We will making our case that the regional council and the port have blatantly ignored state statutes over and over again."

The complaint, filed today in King County Superior Court, is on behalf of the cities of Des Moines, Burien, Federal Way, Normandy Park and Tukwila, as well as the Highline School District and the ACC itself. Cited as defendants are the PSRC, its executive board, the port and its commissioners.

"While demagoguery and back-room politics might make good sound bites and snappy headlines, this country, thank God, is based on due process," said Phil Watkins, who represents Federal Way on the ACC executive board. "We have laws to ensure that decisions are made properly, that our taxpayers' interests, regardless of how unpopular they might be to a few power-brokers, are protected. That's what this battle is about. The regional council and the port are not above the law."

ACC's claims in the lawsuit fall into three general categories. First, the lawsuit contends that the PSRC and the port have failed to follow the process of reaching decisions affecting transportation and the environment that are set out in the state's Growth Management Act (GMA) and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), as well as in other state laws affecting governmental decision-making.

One provision of the GMA, for instance, requires that any regional transportation plan be consistent with the comprehensive plans of the communities within the Puget Sound region. When the PSRC voted to amend its Metropolitan/Regional Transportation Plan on July 11, it ignored that requirement, the lawsuit says. The PSRC's amendment also failed to contain other required elements, such as any credible financial plan describing how the $3.3 billion expansion project would be paid for. Moreover, the suit maintains that the PSRC ignored the law by giving no consideration to protecting the region's highways from the tremendous likely damage caused by the constant flow of double-dump trucks that the port acknowledges would clog the region's roads for three or more years during construction of a third runway.

Similarly, the lawsuit says the port violated the GMA Wednesday (August 1) when it voted to authorize the Sea-Tac expansion because its Master Plan Update for Sea-Tac Airport disregards the comprehensive plans and development regulations of the Coalition cities and other surrounding communities.

The second area that the lawsuit is based upon involves two required environmental studies. Both studies ignored how devastating a third runway would be on the quality of life in the region, especially on those residents who live in south King County. The first study was a programmatic study conducted in 1992; the second a site specific study released by the port in February. Both fell short of SEPA requirements, the lawsuit contends, by failing to adequately study and disclose the extent of impacts on air quality, water quality, noise levels, land uses and the roadway network.

Finally, the lawsuit contends that PSRC violated its own rules and state law governing its actions when it arbitrarily ignored the findings of its own consultants and committee on two critical issues: siting a supplemental airport and noise reduction surrounding Sea-Tac Airport. The lawsuit points out that PSRC established and committed to a process in 1993 to ensure that a decision to approve a third runway at Sea-Tac would be unbiased, fair and reasonable. PSRC, the suit contends, then ignored that process.

The lawsuit asks the court to take 11 actions, overturning various decisions and actions by the PSRC or the port, including ordering the port to stop any further actions to prepare for construction of a third runway or other expansion projects at Sea-Tac.

Source: Airport Communities Coalition of Seattle