FEBRUARY 28, 1998
The Tacoma News Tribune (Local/State; p. B3) reports that the Airport Communities Coalition, a group fighting the proposed construction of a third runway at the Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, Washington, released documents two weeks ago showing that it considered using lawsuits against the project largely as a means to force airport officials to negotiate a financial settlement. The Coalition documents were made public as a result of judicial action after the Port of Seattle, which owns the airport, requested to review the documents.
According to the article, Ken Reid, the former director of the Airport Communities Coalition, wrote in a 1995 memo, "A favorable compromise outcome is unlikely to be produced directly through litigation. ... Rather, it seems our best hope is to put the Port (of Seattle) in a negotiating mood." Reid said that the 16-page memo, titled "Confidential Discussion Draft, Prospects for Success, A case for an ACC Negotiated Compromise," was never acted upon and may never have been seen by the elected officials who guide the Coalition. Reid dismissed the memo as the "musings of a novice bureaucrat."
The Airport Communities Coalition (ACC) is made up of the cities of Normandy Park, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, and Tukwila, and the Highline School District. The Coalition has spend more than $1 million per year in recent years in legal costs, and this year, has budgeted about $2 million for legal expenses in a series of court challenges against the Port's airport expansion project.
John Rankin, the ACC chair and a Normandy Park city councilor, said the Coalition isn't pursuing negotiation as its main strategy now. He said, "We're going full speed in the opposite direction. We've got our eyes firmly fixed on the appeals (court) level." Bob Olander, the Des Moines City Manager, said courts are viewed as the Coalition's prime weapon. "We're in this to win," he said. "We still intend to win in court or on appeal."
But, the article explains, so far the Coalition has lost the two legal challenges it lodged against the expansion project. A hearings examiner ruled in late January that the Port's environmental impact assessment of the runway's effect on surrounding communities was adequate. And, a month earlier, a County Superior Court Judge ruled that the Puget Sound Regional Council acted properly when it amended its long-range transportation plan to include the third runway. There are three more lawsuits outstanding, and one is set to go to trial in the spring, the article notes.
The article goes on to explain that the expansion projects at the airport would cost $1.7 billion, and would include a new runway, an on-site hotel, a larger parking garage, a new terminal, and expanded passenger facilities.
The article also says that both the Port and the ACC have spent money and effort on presenting their side to the public. The school district has hired a public relations firm for $30,000 a month to take its message to the public, and other members of the ACC will spend around $200,000 on public relations this year. Port officials urged co-workers not to release high estimates of future airport traffic unless directly asked by reporters.