Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Several Challenges
to New Runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

DECEMBER 3, 1999

Opponents of the third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have lost another appeal in their long and complicated legal battle. The state Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed an earlier court's dismissal of a number of challenges to the runway from a group of South King County cities united as the Airport Communities Coalition. But the court included stipulations that could hit the Port of Seattle, which owns and runs the airport, right in the pocketbook.

Scheduled for completion in 2005, the controversial third runway is part of a $1.8 billion expansion for Sea-Tac that also will include a new terminal, roads and parking garage. Airport officials claim the extra runway is needed because bad weather often narrows traffic to a single line of approach on one runway, causing flight delays.

The key rulings upheld yesterday:

a. The Port of Seattle doesn't necessarily have to comply with the comprehensive plans of neighboring cities.

b. The project is part of an essential public facility, making the Des Moines community plan that would preclude it invalid.

c. The environmental-impact studies by the Port and the Federal Aviation Administration are valid. They say the expansion won't necessarily mean more passengers, but will ease current delays; and that numerous factors make it unfeasible to predict the project's impact beyond the year 2010.

But the decision does require the Port to take reasonable steps to offset the project's impact on the residents who live near it - or "mitigation of adverse effects" - even if that drives up costs for the project. That's why yesterday's apparent court loss was a partial victory for the runway's opponents, said Gary McClean, Des Moines city attorney. In fact, he called the ruling a "huge boost" for cities around the airport.

Burien, Federal Way, Normandy Park, and Tukwila joined Des Moines in the litigation against the Port, as well as the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board. McClean said all of those cities will start looking at "reasonable mitigation requirements" for such things as noise, smoke, pollution and rumbling he claims will multiply with the expansion.

McClean said potential suggestions will include restricting use of the third runway to bad-weather days, limiting the times airplanes can use it, and limiting even the types of aircraft that can use it. "This controversy is far from over," McClean said. "It's time that regional leaders consider the tremendous financial burden this short-lived project will have on the whole area, especially today, when government agencies are desperate for money to fill potholes."

Source: The Seattle Times