by Ralph Nichols

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.

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

10 replies on “Hundreds Of Angry Residents Confront Port Of Seattle And FAA Officials About Airport Noise At Community Meeting”

  1. When we bought our house, we knew the third runway was going in. We bought it b/c it has great views and it was affordable (the market was crazy at the time). I think people are pissed off b/c although the Port did mention the third runway was going to be used during both inclement weather and high-demand periods, they highlighted the former and significantly downplayed the latter. I can vouch that this is NOT the case. It is used a LOT. And while newer jets are not a problem, a FedEx jet taking off at 5am can be… I bet some creative minds can come up with some great workarounds without resorting to inane and costly extremes.

    1. Did your real estate agent bother to tell you about the cargo flights? Did you stop to think that an airport operates 24 hours a day. Not just when you want to go on vacation?

      1. William, thank you for your bright and insightful response. Believe it or not, we DID think about the fact that airports run 24 hours a day. We also looked into what that would mean for us living very near the 3rd runway. However, I think there’s much more to the story than your flippant answer, and if you (and others like you) would spend more than the two minutes it took you to type out your response, perhaps we would get a better resolution than what’s clearly not working for the residents who live near the airport. Again, we’ve got some fantastically creative people who work at all the organizations involved, and I’m hoping that a more creative resolution than “deal with it” will arise.

        1. So let me get this straight, you did think about the airport operating 24 hours a day but you purchased your home anyway. But because it is louder than you anticipated it would be, you want creative solutions. Seam a flippant answer is all that is needed. And yes there are a lot of people like me scratching our heads wondering what were “people like you” thinking?

  2. I was at the meeting on Tuesday. To my surprise, Max Vekich and Rob Holland were the only Port Commission candidates to show up. I’m a Republican, but I’m voting for these two Democrats because it’s clear they are the only ones who give a crap about the Port’s impacts on our property values.

  3. Face it people. We have been sold a bill of goods. The Port and FAA told us what we wanted to hear when they were going to build and when they were building the runway. They did this to keep the masses (that’s you and me) quiet. Well it worked! Now that the runway is finsihed, do you think that they really give a tinkers damn about what we think? Come on people-think!!!
    A lot of money has been spent on updating the airport and a few disgruntled citizens is a small price to pay. The runway will continue to get more and more use regardless of what you think, say or do.
    You are going to have to learn to live with it-or leave!!! They don’t care which…

    1. Fine…..that just give ALL OF BURIEN, DES MOINES, HIGHLINE the PORT PACKAGE WINDOWS so that we can enjoy our homes! And then we are living and dealing with it JUST fine! 🙂 DUH!

  4. Yes there is alot of passing the Buck when it comes to the Airport sound…Went to the city to complain about the planes going down 148th sw and then over the water..When the 3rd runway was to be put in …the port said this would not happen..that the Prop planes would get up to 1500ft or what ever it was and then turn out to the water so the sound would be to high to hear….sounded good to me…but to save $$$$ the Prop’s now just barely get off the hard deck then turn down 518 …and use 148thsw as a guide …it’s like I’am under the flight path on sunny days..Shame on United and Alaska for breaking the rules…OH thats right the Prop’s are not under the same Rules as the Jets…So they say NOW…We were all lied to….hey how about some free sound proof windows …since I’am now under the flight path…Bastards…

  5. And don’t forget that comment made to me at a meeting prior to third runway construction, that the noise mitigation area (that ends 100 feet east of my house) would not need to be enlarged to the west “because planes are quieter now”……

  6. What were you people thinking in the 1st place? That the port would be honest with us????
    Excuse me for sounding so cynical and negative but anybody that voted yes on the 3rd runway was an idiot… How could ANYONE actually believe it when they said it would only be used in emergencies? Right, billions of dollars on something only used in emergencies??? Anybody who voted yes got what they deserved,,
    I never heard airplane before the 3rd runway,, now when you look at where they approach, looks like an invasion,,, I could go on but it just makes my blood boil,,
    Time to go burn one and calm down now,,*lol*

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