By Jack Mayne
Any “comprehensive resolution” to the continuation of noisy propjet flights over Burien remains a work-in-progress, and any decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration remain up in the air, according to the latest newsletter from Burien’s Quiet Skies Coalition.
The coalition was formed in Burien because the FAA invoked an annual “air space adjustment” that involved the yearly visit by the Navy’s Blue Angels for Seafair in 2016. The FAA conducts semi-annual reviews of its “letter of authorization” updating procedures to comply with revised guidance and operational issues.
Then the FAA withdrew the paragraph that directed traffic to the 250-degree path over Burien after the city filed a petition with the 9th Circuit court in San Francisco. The city and Quiet Skies believed the FAA did not comply with environmental act requirements. The U.S. Department of Justice reviewed the petition and directed the FAA to delete the 250-degree paragraph until they complied with environmental rules.
Later it withdrew that requirement, but told its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport flight controllers to make decisions to redirect flights over Burien based on current traffic and weather conditions. Many of the Q400 turboprops planes are sent over the city, causing residents below to curse the noise and the impact on their lives.
The Q400 turboprop planes were directed over Burien when the wind at SeaTac was from the north as planes take off and land into the wind. That “north flow” wind is prevalent in the winter but can occur any time of the year. The air controllers are attempting to clear runways quickly so that larger airliners can land during busy periods.
The latest Quiet Skies newsletter says the FAA is currently “reviewing approximately 756 responses” submitted by Burien residents and other interested people to a “Preliminary Environmental Analysis” the administration had posted for comment on their “NexGen” website – “NexGen” means next generation of its handling of aircraft at fast-growing airports line SeaTac.
“We are not sure when all the comments will have been reviewed nor what effect our comments will have on their actions,” says the Quiet Skies newsletter.
Quiet Skies says its members forwarded the environmental analysis to the Seattle office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency “for their expert comment on the format and content.”
“The EPA kindly reviewed the FAA’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment and forwarded their comments to both the FAA and the Quiet Skies,” the newsletter says.
The result, it says, were “areas for significant improvement and certain items were omitted” that were pointed out to the FAA.
Justifying plane turns
But Quiet Skies says there “are indications” that the agency may be planning to issue a “Categorical Exclusion” justifying the turns over Burien.
“If they do, we expect the city to challenge the legitimacy” of the preliminary environmental assessment.
Last winter, Quiet Skies brought the matter to the Burien City Council that had the financial means to support hiring experienced lawyers to battle the FAA, so the Quiet Skies case became the City of Burien’s legal case.
The city hired the Dentons law firm’s San Francisco office. Dentons bills itself as “a global law firm … with the competitive edge in an increasingly complex and interconnected marketplace.”
Dentons immediately petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco “related to our grievance against the FAA.”
Quiet Skies said, “even though the FAA has reversed its directive, the petition remains in effect, subject to mediation efforts.”
The 9th Circuit Court is the busiest federal appeals court in the nation and it “prefers to allow the parties to a petition to attempt to resolve their differences before the case goes before the judges.”
Quiet Skies newsletter says its petition “is currently a work in progress.”
Seeking a Solution
Quiet Skies said that on July 25, Burien City Attorney Lisa Marshall and City Manager Brian Wilson and the Denton’s lawyer, Matthew Adams, “met with approximately twelve FAA personnel to discuss possible solutions.”
But Quiet Skies was “not allowed to attend the meeting” and if they did, “the FAA would cancel the meeting,” so it opted out because there was “more to gain by having the meeting.”
Marshall and Wilson later met with Quiet Skies and discussed the points the FAA had raised in the meeting.
Now Burien City Attorney Marshall and Matt Adams of Dentons Law Firm “are drafting a letter to the FAA thanking the FAA for the meeting and asking several additional questions.”
Over flights are back
Quiet Skies writes that they monitored the propjet Q400 departures.
“The conclusion, although they have rescinded the procedure for an automatic turn to 250 degrees (which sent the aircraft over Burien) … they have replaced that procedure with one that allows controllers to arbitrarily decide each Q400 departure path to the west over Burien.”
While having controllers deciding takeoff route “is a more or less traditional way of doing business for the FAA,” Quiet Skies says changes are needed.
“We believe (the) process needs to be replaced with a procedure that conforms to the National Environmental Policy Act.”
Quiet Skies says that if the FAA issues a categorical exception for the flights turned over Burien, Marshall’s “current position” is that “the 250-degree heading violates” environmental policy law and that the 756 comments provided the FAA are a very good indication that the impacts to residents are “significant” thereby requiring the completion of an environmental assessment.
Read our extensive previous coverage of this issue here.]]>
Quiet Skies Coalition says noisy flights over Burien still a â€˜Work In Progress’
By Jack Mayne