Residents Plan To Sue Port Of Seattle Over 3rd Runway

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Over 150 area residents turned out Sunday to hear lawyers discuss an upcoming class action lawsuit against the Port of Seattle over the third runway.

by Jack Mayne

Big 757s taking off and landing right over your house can jar nerves and rattle lifestyles, yet a lot of people have to live that way every day – and many are ready to fight on in court.

“I can’t sleep at night,” said one person at a meeting Sunday afternoon at the SeaTac Community Center. “It got better for a while, but then they opened the new runway and now I can’t hear people in the room,” said another person, “or what is on TV.” Still another said people had moved from his rental properties and others said the value of their property, already hammered by the faltering economy, have gone lower because of the November opening of the runway.

Still another resident of the area told of flashing laser lights that “even after you get used to them, they startle you.” A spokesman said the Port would like to know more about this because there have been illegal usages of lasers focused at planes recently and it is working with police to find and stop this activity.

Anger and resentment is building in the area because people think the Port of Seattle is not keeping their promise not to use the new 8,500-foot runway except in bad weather or as a backup to the other two runways. The Sunday meeting was held so the downtown Seattle law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Kosnoff could explain the class action lawsuit they are drafting that seeks to make the port stop using the runway for daily takeoffs and landings (see sidebar).

“The Port says they are operating within the law, but that is not true if it (negatively) impacts you,” said law firm partner Darrell Cochran to an estimated 150 to 200 people at the Sea-Tac Community Center Sunday afternoon. “We will be filing a lawsuit – June 15th is the estimate (when the suit will be filed).”

Area residents, some who have fought the Port and the runway for two decades or more, have complained of a variety of impacts, but what most infuriates people is that the third runway now is a main runway.

“What we hear is that the port has not told the truth on the third runway’s use as a backup,” said Cochran. “Every landing since it has opened has landed on it. We have seen documents that it will be in fulltime use – that the Port will continue to use it as a fulltime runway, even though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was told it would be a backup runway.”

A Port of Seattle spokesman said there has been a temporary six-month closure of the airport’s longest and oldest runway because it needs to be rebuilt. The third and newest runway is now being used only in the interim fulltime. Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said Monday the project is costing $52 million in federal funds. The work is being carried out during the spring and summer months so that it is completed as quickly as possible.

A brand new control light system is being installed on the first (eastern most) runway because all planes using the other two runways need to cross it.

“It’s going to be noisier for a six-month period,” said Cooper.

Statistics by the Port on their Sea-Tac website show that prior to April 13, the number of landings and takeoffs on the new runway were close to the number of uses the Port had estimated in its Environmental Impact Statement.

“You’ll see that the runway use is virtually equal to the Environmental Impact Statement projection,” Cooper said, adding that the traffic on the third runway is up during the winter months when more separation between active runways is required.

“In the summer, those days drop off dramatically and would expect to lower the yearly average as compared to the winter numbers.” Cooper said.

When asked by nearby residents on Sunday if the suit should be against the FAA instead of the Port, lawyer Cochran said the Federal Aviation Administration “has immunity” because the decision to build the third runway where it is was a decision by the Port and not the government agency.

The Federal Aviation Administration controls the runways planes use for landing and takeoffs.

“The Port does not operate the runways,” Cooper said. “We built it and maintain it, but the actual operation of the runway, takeoffs and landings, etc. is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration.”

He says the Port “has been a proponent of the area community as soon as complaints were made and we went to the FAA and worked with them to make sure the operation of the runway has been consistent with the projections from the Environmental Impact Statement. That step also brought us to create the website with the usage statistics.

Members of the Federal Aviation Administration came to a recent Highline meeting to hear the community’s concerns, Cooper said.

The lawsuit lawyer, Cochran, said Sunday that people who felt they had personal injury cases against the Port should be gathering evidence to support their claim. For example, Cochran said people should take photos of soot on cars and surfaces from planes taking off or landing on the runway. They should document evidence of increase illnesses or other negative effects.

People should do this even if they have not yet decided on making a claim or filing a suit.

So, what do YOU think of this class action lawsuit against the Port of Seattle? Please answer our poll:

Do you think Residents have a good case against the Port of Seattle?

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Jack Mayne is a freelance writer and editor and may be reached at [email protected]

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One Response to “Residents Plan To Sue Port Of Seattle Over 3rd Runway”
  1. Jennifer says:

    I have lived in the Burien Community my entire life. I have heard the battle brew over the 3rd runway for the majority of the time. I don't understand how citizens in this community can be so against progress. Did they not realize when they moved to this area that expansion was going to happen. Burien is next to a major City ~ Seattle! Growth was going to happen! I don't live far from the 3rd runway and I have enjoyed watching the planes take off and land. As for the noise….I don't even notice!

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