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 Debi Wagner, also a member of Quiet Skies, said an agency should not be allowed to “run over communities, destroy neighborhoods for the sake of moving a few more planes.” 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.” RELATED DOCUMENTS:


Jack Mayne

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

27 replies on “City of Burien will sue FAA if it does not quickly stop controversial over-flights”

  1. Council Member Bob Edgar could spend 5 minutes arguing about why the vote for deputy mayor should be moved, a vote that booted him from the seat, yet gives us a 15 second excuse on why he votes no? Damn shame this coward isn’t up for election this year.

  2. Thank you to all of the members of the Quiet Skies Coalition and the city of Burien standing up for us. This new flight pattern has been horrible and a serious impact to our living.

  3. If you don’t like airplane noise, stop wining and simply move. SEATAC airport was there long before you moved near the airport.

    1. Wrong Clark! Many of us were here when the airport was 1 runway with coyotes running across it. We have been bamboozled by the Port into their versions of ‘limited growth’ step by step for decades. Mean time watching our schools get torn down and being put at the bottom of any urban improvement, while our property values slide into the toilet. You try selling property under these conditions, even in our ‘King County sellers market’. It might be an eye opener as to what the airport is doing not only to our quality of life and property values, but also to Burien’s City coiffures.

      1. I agree that this can affect our property values. So can crime / lawlessness / gang activity, etc. which has been on the rise lately. We need to deal with both issues, and the crime issue is the most urgent, imo.

        1. Fine with me Peter. I consider what the Port and FAA have done, and continue to do, to be a crime. A crime that not only impacts human lives, but also one of high monetary value. That monetary loss is not only to individuals, who cannot sell their property for a comparable market value of those properties that are not near the flight paths, but it also results in lower funds available to Burien for such things as better security.

          1. Hey – I think we actually agree on something. I don’t want our property values to plummet either. What changed between this year and last that the flight patterns have changed?
            I do think that its not a matter of either/or – we ought to be able to address both the urgent crime issue in Burien, as well as this airplane noise issue. My only point is that the crime issue is more urgent – as immediate lives are at stake here with the shootings, etc.

    2. Sorry, Clark, but you are uninformed. The Port of Seattle was allowed to build a second runway at SeaTac in exchange for a PROMISE never to build a third. I moved to my current house in Burien during the debates for a new regional airport, and was fully aware of the promise. There were no guarantees that other neighborhoods were safe from future airport noise, but Burien and surrounding areas had the promise.
      The Port of Seattle has proven itself to be dishonest and a poor community partner. This recent bit of bullying is just another example. I support the lawsuit 100%.

  4. I’m glad the council decided to do this. Burien residents need to be part of the decision/discussion to route planes over our neighborhood.

  5. There is a perfectly good solution, it’ss called Paine Field, Everett WA.It’s time to share the burden of noise with our neighbors to the north, or to the east. If someone wants us to quit whining, share some of the negative effects across Western WA.

  6. Hmmm, We live near an airport, an airport that is seeing more flights. Those additional flights lead to the smaller planes needing to get out of the way of the larger planes. Thus we are going to have more air traffic over Burien. My question is to each of you complaining about the added flights over your house is…. How many times a year do you or your family fly in or out of SeaTac? Do you want the smaller planes to stay in the flight path of your larger plane thus making your departure take longer? I think not. More flight traffic is just one of the things we should expect with an up to date, working airport.

    1. I’m fine with longer delays. The Port of Seattle is just a power-hungry organization that cannot be trusted. They didn’t want the correct solution (a new regional airport), because they wouldn’t have been in control of it. Sadly, it’s time to rein them in, once again.

      1. You say that now. But next time you are at the airport and your flight is delayed due to ATC congestion I bet you’ll be the first to go yell at the agents working at the airport counter about missing your connecting flight!

    2. “How many times a year do you or your family fly in or out of SeaTac?”
      Um, never. The last time I was on a plane was 1992.

  7. I wish the residents of Burien would care more about the crime than the noise in the sky. There have been multiple shootings around here lately, what about making the community safe. I prefer the noise of the planes to the sound of gunshots.

      1. Both would be great, however, people seemed to only be focused on spending money and taking action on this one.

    1. While I understand concerns around crime and public safety, anyone who is characterizing what is happening with the flight path changes as simply “noise in the sky” is being naive to the true effects. You are breathing harmful chemicals, carcinogens in fact, and the persistent noise from the planes is impacting your children’s growth and development. The health impacts are real. Take a moment to research the situation before you decide for all of us that Burien has bigger fish to fry.

  8. How about also suing the Port Of Seattle over the increase of noise from the 3rd runway. I’ve lived in my current house for 20 years, and remember what the noise was like before the 3rd runway. When planes takeoff going south on the 3rd runway, the noise deflects off the hill just to the north of 518 and east of 509, impacting the neighborhoods that are north of S.W. 148th.
    When south bound 3rd runway takeoffs are occurring, my house shakes and vibrates, and the noise is deafening. It was never, and I repeat never, like that before the 3rd runway became operational.

  9. I’m guessing none of you commute and get the pleasure of the transit center everyday. Why don’t you all go hang out there for a bit and see which issue Burien should tackle first, the rising crime and gang activity or the FAA. Your home prices will go the way of White Center if you don’t focus on the safety of living here. Who wants to live in a city that has multiple shootings in a week, one in broad daylight right by the library! Get a clue people.

  10. It is nice that the city takes a stand, but they don’t have a case and will loose. The only winner is the law firm and the people of Burien will be hit twice – first with the noise, second with the waste of tax dollars. These dollars would have been much better spend on the safety of the community.
    Now, who is going to rile up a lot of residents about crime etc and take them to the city hall to convince the council to spend an equal amount or more on fighting crime? It has proven to work.

    1. Seahurst resident, if the shootings, gang activity on ambaum, petty crimes, all around lawlessness from library to Safeway and in between, do not rile people, then I am not sure what will. the only reason why some are not riled up is because they are living further out in places that are isolated from all of this and have become complacent.

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