When asked who was present to support the Quiet Skies Coalition, many at Monday night’s Burien Council meeting raised their hands. Photo by Scott Schaefer.[/caption] By Jack Mayne The Burien City Council has been told that the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to meet requirements of the federal environmental policy law by not conducting an impact study before it ordered prop-jet planes to turn over the city, causing added noise and pollution for residents of the city, particularly the Seahurst neighborhood. The Council also voted to form a new citizen-government committee to consider problems of noise and other concerns the city has with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It is seeking citizens who wish to join the committee (read more here). The Dec. 19 Council session also considered, and then improperly voted to approve a Sanctuary City designation (see our previous story here). Airport is great threat Larry Cripe (pictured, left), president of the local Quiet Skies Coalition, told the Council that “there is no greater single threat to our community than the FAA and the Port of Seattle and what they have thrust upon the citizens of Burien. What they have done is nothing short of blatant disregard of the law and an abuse of power by public officials in forcing their will on the people that they are paid to serve.” He said the Burien City Council has a responsibility to protect its citizens, and added that Quiet Skies was formed to fight the effects on noise and pollution. “We’ve tried unsuccessfully to get the FAA to come to the table to talk with us about the abuse of power and we are left with no other option other than to pursue legal actions against them.” “As elected officials, it is imperative that you understand the seriousness and long-term impact that this will have on our community” and to release funds that it has set aside about three weeks prior for ligation. Violated environment law A Quiet Skies member and West Burien resident Walt Bala (pictured, right), a former airline pilot and FAA inspector, said he researched the FAA for its needs to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Bala said the law requires that the FAA “decision process must consider and disclose the potential impacts of a proposed action and its alternatives on the quality of the human environment.” So he said he dug more deeply into the requirements the environmental law imposes on the agency. He found that the law requires that “anytime they make a turn below 3,000 feet over an environmental sensitive area, they must do an environmental impact statement or assessment,” Bala said. The recent change that has so upset Burien residents is that prop-jet commuter planes are turning over Burien at less than 3,000 feet. No public comment He asked the FAA for documents show they made that assessment and got back a response on Dec. 18 and there “was nothing in that that addressed environmental impact.” So Bala said he dug further into the matter and said the FAA has “got nothing to support the action they have taken” which is the order for planes to make a left turn over Burien. “There was no public disclosure, no comment period, no alternative which should be part of the process.” He said he asked the FAA again about that result and “they came back in their own words and said they did not have any documents, files or records that showed they provided any of the compliance features of the NEPA requirements. “Basically, we’ve got a pretty strong case” and added “we should be able to hold their feet to the fire in a court case … to hold a public discussion.” John Parness (pictured, left), a Burien resident and attorney, but one who does not practice aviation law, said Quiet Skies has retained a lawyer “who is heavily in the law of national flight path modification controversies” involving next-generation aircraft and the FAA. Experienced lawyer hired He said Quiet Skies has enough money to hire the “top-flight” lawyer to fight the flight path changes. “We’ve done that because the good people in this room and others who couldn’t attend (the Dec. 19 City Council meeting) donated hard-earned money to fund our organization,” Parness said. That lawyer has said there is a “very tight deadline for a suit against the FAA. Parness said Quiet Skies thinks the plane noise problem is one that affects the entire city and costs should be shared by Burien city government, adding they did not expect the city to make a decision on contributing money to the cause immediately, but suggested a briefing by their lawyer be held soon. Seahurst resident and realtor Susan Plecko, a Quiet Skies board member, urged the Council to help “fight this cause, and it’s going to take money and I know that you have set aside funds for litigation and we would like to work with you in order to protect our city and our property values.” Joel Wachtel (pictured, right), a SeaTac resident and member of that city’s mayor-appointed Airport Advisory Council, said the Port of Seattle and its airport “really doesn’t care about the people in the cities around the airport. All they care about the airport is making it bigger, making more money and they will do whatever they can to shortcut and you have to stand strong because if you give them an inch, they’ll roll over you.” No money yet The Council did not discuss granting any city funds to Quiet Skies, putting off that consideration until after more meetings and discussions in 2017. It did approve formation of an airport committee to consider impacts of Sea-Tac Airport and the ramifications of its effects upon Burien. The membership of the new committee will include three Councilmembers, one of whom will be the committee chairman, three members from the Burien business community, and three Burien residents. It is similar to one in SeaTac that has been in operation by mayoral appointment for several months and which has met with Port of Seattle officials and hopes for a meeting next month with the Federal Aviation Agency.]]>

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

16 replies on “Burien Council told FAA violated environmental law with flight path change”

  1. These prop planes change takeoff direction in the winter and now turn directly over Normandy Park.
    The Port & FAA think they are above the law!

  2. To minimize the size and effect of their noise footprint the planes, within reasonable safety constraints, climb as quickly as possible and try to fly over unpopulated (water) areas as much as possible. That means turning west as soon as is reasonable. They have been doing this for decades and it makes sense. Not turning means it will affect more people.

    1. Clearly they haven’t been “doing it for decades” because it’s suddenly gotten quite noisy over Seahurst.
      SeaTac has simply become too large in it’s operations for this area and the impact is increasingly negative.
      It’s time the Port relocate SeaTac or at least transfer some of it traffic to other airports.
      In terms of quality of life for the residence of Burien, there IS a saturation point for air traffic for a given area and we are now at that point. The Port needs to understand this.

      1. If you move the airport many jobs go with it. Hotels close, car dealerships close, restaurants close. Businesses relocate closer to the new airport, people in the shoulder business close and or layoff people. Home prices go down because of oversupply of homes or because no one can afford them because their good paying job left town.Heck it may even be your son, daughter, sister, brother, neighbor? Who knows. Also you cant make an airline go where they don’t want to go. Just because you build it don’t make them come. There has to be demand for the service.

    2. Lee, It’s the sharp turning at low altitude that causes the window rattling noise. Straight take-off, not so much.

  3. The FAA is supposed to overlook airport operations from a Safety perspective although it now appears they’ve been out of the picture re: the westward low overflights.
    The Port has probably been allowed to “self regulate” in it’s MO, for some time, just like Wall street was self regulating… until the market crash of 2008. Then all the rot got exposed.
    The port and the FAA have been cutting corners with the altered flight paths but at Burien’s expense.
    Like Joel Wachtel said, “we have to stand strong because if you give them an inch, they’ll roll over you.”

  4. Befoe everyone gets too worked up , please remember that for YEARS the prop set flew over NP and south Burien, at least twice an hour from 7 am until after 10 pm. Also, do put a thought that this kind of EPA evaluation has already been discussed a great deal as the kind of EPA protection ‘that blocks businesses and will be eradicated soon’. I do believe that we need to “share the load” of flight traffic, but clearly, more thought should be put to what is happening.

    1. Something has changed. I’ve lived in upper Maplewild for 20 years and they have only flown over me directly a few times a week – or less – until this last summer.

  5. Let’s not restrict the dialogue to just prop planes over Seahurst and NP.
    The larger problem is the increased traffic and following noise as jets accelerate for take-off. The continual roar now permeates the skies of Burien. Landing jets also roar when the thrust reversers kick in.
    Increased traffic (thanks to the third runway) has translated to increased noise frequency and noise level. Burien is fast becoming a tarmac.

  6. Seriously, you live near an airport, there is going to be airport noise. Get over it or move as the airport is not about to move.

    1. Seriously, the Port expansion has lowered our property value and will continue to do so with the increased volume. They need to compensate us for what they have damaged.
      This is not only true for residences but also true for Burien as a municipality.

  7. Puget Sound population continues to grow, not just Seattle but North and South as well. Another regional airport is clearly needed.
    SW has made several attempts to leave SeaTac but I believe POS has bullied and abused it’s authority to squash those attempts.
    Might also be secretly funding the coalition blocking Paine Field expansion, with tax payer dollars of course. Protecting their own interests, not citizens.

  8. Neighborhoods that historically are subject to noise have been provided various mitigations like triple pane windows, insulation, etc.
    The new areas being subjected to airplane noise have had no such offers of assistance.

    1. The windows and other mitigation help up to a point, but only as long as you’re inside and have the windows closed. They’re certainly better than nothing though.
      Unfortunately the way they average noise levels means that it’s very difficult for any new areas to qualify. You could fire off battleship guns once or twice a day and the “average” noise level would still be fine. Sadly, we don’t hear “average” noise, we notice the loud stuff. As traffic increases that will bring the average up a little though so there’s a sad hope of an expansion.

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