Supreme Court rejects Mukilteo’s suit, clears way for Paine Field passenger terminal

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    Artists renderings of the new Paine Field passenger terminal, due to begin serving customers in fall 2018. (Courtesy Propeller Aviation)

    Earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court rejected what many saw as the final appeal to stop the proposed construction of a commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field.

    Filed by the City of Mukilteo and the Save Our Communities citizens’ group, the suit maintained that the lease issued by the county in 2015 to New York-based Propeller Aviation, developer of the terminal, should be overturned because it was entered into without a full prior environmental process. (See previous article here.)

    “Our position was that this is putting the cart before the horse,” said Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson. “A full environmental process should be a pre-condition for the lease, not a detail to be addressed after making this commitment. What if the environmental review turned up a compelling reason to not grant the lease? This is something that should have been addressed before the fact, not after.”

    But the court did not agree, which in effect clears the way for terminal construction to begin this summer. Because the current lease agreement calls for a maximum of 27 flights per day, the courts have agreed that any plans to increase this would trigger a new environmental review. Paine field currently handles an average of 300 general aviation flights per day.

    “We are obviously disappointed with this decision,” Gregerson said. “While our goal from the beginning has been to stop the project, our fallback position now is to limit the impact on the community.”

    One way the city plans to do this is through the Harbor Reach Corridor project, a $19 million traffic bypass designed to alleviate the growing congestion in the area, specifically around the Beverly Park Road/Mukilteo Speedway intersection. Funded primarily with state transportation money from gas taxes, the project will also use $93,000 in mitigation funds from Propeller as specified in the lease agreement. Because only local funds are involved, the Harbor Reach Corridor project is safe from any possible federal budget cutbacks.

    “We are also pleased to have a locally-based airline to work with,” added Gregerson. “We’re happy to be dealing with Alaska Airlines. As a local company, they’re part of our community, and more open to considering alternative flight paths, limiting numbers of flights and hours of operation to lessen the impacts.”

    Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling expressed similar feeling in an interview last month.

    “I’m very concerned about flight patterns and the potential for increased ambient noise in our community from passenger jets flying overhead,” he said. “But my sense is that the project is moving ahead and we need to be prepared to work with the airport and flight operators on mitigating the negative impacts on our quality of life here in Edmonds.”

    Alaska Airlines plans to begin nine daily passenger flights from the new terminal next fall. Destinations have yet to be announced, but early indications include regular service to the Bay Area and Northwest cities, and some select vacation areas (think Hawaii).

    A comprehensive list of project documents is available online from Snohomish County here.

    — By Larry Vogel

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