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Hundreds Of Angry Residents Confront Port Of Seattle And FAA Officials About Airport Noise At Community Meeting

by Ralph Nichols [1]

If it wasn’t already obvious before Tuesday (Sept. 29) night’s community meeting about additional noise generated by commercial jets using Sea-Tac International Airport’s third runway, people living not only under but near the new flight paths are mad as hell.

But while they don’t want to take it anymore, it appears they have no option but to endure it. No governmental organization is stepping forward with solutions – not studies, but solutions – then putting them into effect.

As a result, these citizens are even more frustrated than mad. And Port of Seattle and Federal Aviation Administration representatives heard this frustration – laced with anger – during the two-hour meeting at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien.

The strongest complaints from the audience of approximately 400 included charges that the Port of Seattle “lied” to the public about the use of the third runway when it was being planned and designed and studied for its environmental impacts on the surrounding area.

“We need answers,” said Debi Wagner, a long-time activist against airport expansion. “You guys lied to us.”

Another woman said her home was soundproofed against noise from the second runway in 1992, yet “now it’s worthless. Are you people above the law?” She added that President Obama should become involved because “he closed Guantanamo (Bay detention of terror suspects) … He can close the Port of Seattle.”

One man in the audience suggested that to save the millions of dollars future lawsuits over noise and noise mitigation could cost, the Port of Seattle should just shut down the third runway.

When asked if the Port would consider doing that, Stan Shepard, manager of Sea-Tac noise programs, replied, “Absolutely not.”

Joining Shepard to hear complaints and field questions from the public were David Suomi, deputy regional administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Northwest Mountain Region, and Linda Pelligrini with FAA’s air traffic control.

Also attending were District 33 legislators – Sen. Karen Keiser and Reps. Dave Upthegrove and Tina Orwall – and 34th District Rep. Sharon Nelson, King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, and representatives of CASE (Citizens Against Sea-Tac Expansion) and the RCAA (Regional Commission on Airport Affairs).

“We’re here to listen,” Keiser (D-Des Moines) told the assembly. “These issues are not new to us. But they have been sharpened” since the third runway opened 10 months ago and has been operating “24/7.”

Paramount concerns, Keiser continued, include sleep – “it’s hard to get a decent night’s sleep when planes are always flying” – and public safety with planes flying only 100 to 200 feet overhead on final approach.

She said the 33rd District’s delegation would develop legislation in Olympia to help alleviate these problems.

Two separate realities really frustrate, confound and even anger many living near the airport and along the third runway flight paths:

  1. First, the third runway was planned and built by the Port of Seattle, which operates the airport including its facilities and infrastructure.
  2. Second, it is the FAA, and not the airport, that directs air traffic including which runways will be used for each landing and take-off.

Several in the audience reminded Shepard and the FAA representatives that the third runway had been sold to the public as a backup runway primarily for landings in bad weather to reduce flight delays and departures. But since it opened, it also has been used routinely for what Shepard described as “high-demand” periods – those times when eight or more planes arrive within 15 minutes.

This is a primary reason why a number of those speaking accused the Port of lying to them before the third runway was built.

Another man asked what happened to the concept of limited use, noting it was “an enormous leap” from that earlier assurance “to high demand. We would like that concept changed.” He was roundly applauded when he added, “We were hoodwinked.”

Wagner also declared that with emissions from jet engines, including small black dust-like particles, the Port is “killing us with their aircraft. They’re causing cancer and they don’t care about you at all.” New airports have a five-mile buffer for emissions as well as noise because of the high cancer risk from jet emissions, she added. Some airports even have nighttime curfews.

“The Port is fully committed to make this a public process,” Shepard said about future noise studies and noise mitigation. He later was jeered when he noted, “Sea-Tac is a leader in airport noise mitigation,” and the third runway doesn’t alter that fact. “I’m damn proud” of what the Port has done, he said.

Shepard also reminded the audience that while the third runway has been operated as a regular runway since April, this is about to change and that will result in less noise from flight operations on the runway.

The third runway has handled a lot of Sea-Tac departures as well as arrivals during the complete rebuilding of the longest runway (closest to the terminal). That job has been completed and, when the FAA certifies that runway as operational, use of the third runway will be reduced.

None of what they heard, however, appeared to satisfy the audience because, many seemed to feel, their concerns appear to have no impact on the FAA’s use of the third runway.

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