City of Burien will sue FAA if it does not quickly stop controversial over-flights
By Jack Mayne
The Burien City Council has agreed 6-1 to hire a San Francisco law firm to take the Federal Aviation Administration to court if the agency does not immediately stop changes in commuter jet flights over Burien, and if the agency fails to do a legally required environmental impact study on the impact of the over-flights.
The lone “No” vote was from Councilmember Bob Edgar, who said he was worried about the final cost of such a legal action.
After an executive session Monday night (Jan. 23) newly-elected Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta moved that the city immediately contact the aviation agency and “request that the FAA immediately cease and desist directing northbound departure flights over the City of Burien on a so-called ‘New Route’ that began in the summer of 2016.”
“These flights are frequent, continuous, and concentrated over areas of Burien that have in the past experienced only occasional over-flights,” Tosta said, and they “deviate from the settled and mitigated departure routes used for many years by Sea-Tac Airport; were implemented without notice to city residents; and received no environmental review.”
Tosta said the city “requires that the FAA fully and completely comply with all environmental regulations to ensure the health and quality of life of our residents.”
Here’s a video of Tosta’s statement:
Lawsuit if FAA doesn’t
Tosta’s Council motion said that “if the FAA fails to cease and desist in directing these flights over Burien and does not agree to a full NEPA review before Feb. 10th, the City Manager/City Attorney are authorized to retain the law firm of Dentons to litigate against the FAA for completion of a NEPA review at a cost not to exceed $70,000.”
A lawyer for the Denton law firm earlier told the Quiet Skies coalition that it could likely win such a suit.
In a B-Town Blog story earlier (read it here), Matthew Adams of Dentons’ said it appears Quiet Skies and the City of Burien could get the flight paths moderated or changed by challenging the federal agency over failure to conduct environmental studies before such a major change in operations.
“On balance, it appears that a cause of action alleging a violation of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) would be likely to succeed on the merits,” wrote Matthew Adams of the Dentons’ San Francisco office.
“Publicly-available documents (including those obtained from the FAA through the freedom of information act) strongly indicate that the FAA failed to comply with NEPA before approving the New Route.
“And the FAA’s explanation for that failure is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to available evidence,” Adams wrote.
Larry Cripe – President of the Quiet Skies Coalition – told this reporter on Tuesday that the city action means his organization “may have lost control” of the aviation noise situation at least partly, but it did have a meeting with the FAA on Tuesday afternoon. The coalition was pushing its demand that the environmental study be done or the flights be redirected to turn further north over Seattle and at higher altitudes, thus lessening the noise impart of their departures.
Anything FAA wants?
“Is the FAA allowed to take any action necessary to increase airport capacity?” Tosta asked in commenting on her motion. “Is the FAA allowed to destroy the health and wellbeing of residents and spread poverty in surrounding communities because it believes more flights should be accommodated? No community should be subject to the whims of the FAA.
“While many of us have begun to hear more flights, it was Larry Cripe and the Quiet Skies Coalition who brought it to the attention of the Council last year and organized the community.
“They have fought for us and invested our donations as citizens in legal briefs that told us that the FAA has not followed its required procedures, that it has not complied with NEPA before subjecting us to an inordinate amount of noise and emissions so the Quiet Skies Coalition needs to be a partner with the city – we clearly need their assistance.”
Tosta said that “if we don’t stand up to the FAA on the dereliction of their responsibilities we are not doing our job as a Council and we run the risk of establishing a ‘new normal’ of noise in our community that will be intolerable for all of us, will depreciate our property values and will make it impossible to become the vibrant and prosperous community we are on a path to being.”
Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, on the telephone as usual, said that because the city is taking over the case challenging the FAA, “doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate your contributions – it is quite the opposite.” She said she hoped people of Quiet Skies and others would stay involved in the issue.
Mayor Lucy Krakowiak said the fight against the problems of the airport continue – “this could be considered the fourth runway,” and that involvement of all residents would be necessary for grassroots organization and donations to legally fight the behemoth federal organization.
Councilmember Bob Edgar was the only one who voted against the Tosta motion, saying he was concerned about “the final monetary impact would be to the city.”
- Council Agenda/Packet (PDF file)