By Jack Mayne

The Port of Seattle briefed the Burien City Council on its plans to keep growing to accommodate by 2027 the expected 56 million passengers moving through Sea-Tac Airport with 480,000 annual “aircraft operations.”

At the same time Larry Cripe and Debi Wagner of the Quiet Skies Coalition say the Port is doing “things that are bad for the citizens of the South King County area.” Cripe said after attending all of the meetings about the airport expansion that “it’s deplorable to me what is going on over there.”

Airport noise hush houses’
Arlyn Purcell (pictured, right), Port of Seattle director of aviation environment and sustainability did a presentation on the status of the Port of Seattle’s Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP), and told the Council about expected continued fast growth of passengers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

At the end of Purcell’s presentation, Councilmember Lucy Krakowiak asked her about so-called “hush houses,” or three sided enclosures where a plane’s engines can be tested while limiting noise in the area. Purcell said the space such a facility needs is large and that airport space is very limited (Sea-Tac has one of the smallest total airport sites among major intercontinental airports in the United States). Such a facility also needs to be connected to a taxiway for planes to reach it and she said such a space is not available.

She also said some of the airlines are doing their engine tests at other airports so the number of such noisy processes is declining.

‘Near-term projects’
Purcell said there were three on-going strategies, including a north satellite new international arrival facility Concourse D, improved baggage handling areas and added and updated dining and retail facilities. She said other studies on longterm facilities needed for growth are underway.

For the immediate future, Purcell said the Port was focusing on “near-term projects because those are the improvements that we feel we can accomplish in the existing airfield, air space and financial constraints.”

She said the Port is focusing now on 19 added gates at a second terminal, added cargo facilities, space for parking cargo aircraft and “projects to improve safety, provide support facilities and access to the airport” because those are improvements that can be done at the “existing airfield, airspace and financial constraints.”

Purcell said environmental review is necessary to get state and federal approval and thence financing for the “improvements.”

A lower noise threshold and methods of measuring sound levels were suggested by comments to the Port, Purcell said, including “Next Gen” technologies and methods for measuring noise will be monitored, but the methods specified by the Federal Aviation Administration would be used although it is doing studies on alternative methods.

The “rough timeframe” for finishing the draft environmental impact statement is next April and a draft document “will follow the FAA’s NEPA decision” in September 2020, she said.

There are a number of “ongoing initiatives” studies taking place, said Purcell, including and Airport Communities Ecology Fund grant study, the South King County Community Fund study, and the Sea-Tac Airport Advisory Roundtable and the Sustainable Aviation Fuels study.

Passenger increases
Councilmember Nancy Tosta noted the 41 percent increase in the number of airport passengers “and that has never been assessed in impact perspective,” yet going forward “you are going to say ‘well we are going to start from today with a 19 percent increase in the next ten years versus the increase we’ve seen in last five years alone.'”

Purcell said: “believe it or not the number of aircraft operations at Sea-Tac was once quite high and then dipped quite a bit as a result of the recession and then now has finally caught up … .” She added that future projections will account for growth.

Quiet Skies demurs
Later in the meeting, during public comment period, Larry Cripe, president of Burien’s Quiet Skies Coalition, said listening to the Port’s comments after attending all of the meetings about the airport expansion “it’s deplorable to me what is going on over there.”

“Listening to her (Purcell) come in here tonight and talk about things — the noncompliance and, over the next several months, you are going to hear from me about (an FAA regulation) and how voluntary they want to claim this thing is — its voluntary until once you start to participate in it then there are triggers that require you to do certain things.

“We will show at the Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) meeting where all the non-compliance by the Port … is, we will relay that information back to you because ultimately it’s going to require the Quiet Skies Coalition to engage in a new lawsuit” to stop behavior of the Port “because it is in violation of Part 150,” which refers to Part 150 of the “Airport Noise Compatibility Planning” study.

Cripe said he would report back to the Council when it is determined what the port is actually doing in regard to expansion of its facilities for increased aircraft activity.

Climate change, ultrafine particles
Former Burien Councilmember Debi Wagner, who is seeking to return to the Council in the November election, said the Port was going to consider climate change in its growth, “but it is going to use the model to estimate climate change at emission at 10 percent of the total fuel. So the FAA’s newest model that will estimate climate emissions will leave out 90 percent of the climate emissions total.

“They are ignoring the elephant in the room which are the jets, they don’t want estimate the jets,” she said. “The jets at Sea-Tac Airport are equal to a coal fired power plant right now and if they were under scrutiny right now and people would be upset about it as they are about coal fired power plants.”

Wagner also said that emission of ultra fine particulates – what a California study said are tiny particles generated from gas and diesel motor vehicle engines – are also a high hazard at the airport. Wagner added that a study showed these particles change the formation of the human brain and affect the “cognitive ability of young children, affects learning and they are doing research on its effects of dementia, Alzheimers.

“We are breathing this,” Wagner said, adding that the Port of Seattle suggested aircraft ultra fine particulates could not be separated from their sources “is false” because ultra fine particles from aircraft are “uniquely small and not found from any other source.”

Wagner said a study of ultra-fine particles at the University of Washington shows “we are saturated, we are blanked with it daily.”

Fireworks still banned
Former serviceman and Burien resident James Marx (pictured, left) told the Council during public comment period that he was a gunner during the war in Iraq.

He said that when attacked and some soldiers “were instantly killed, fragments of their burning limbs and equipment being flung across the road and vehicles following behind it. I can still clearly see a soldier on the ground struggling to apply pressure to his gushing neck would with a mangled stump that seconds prior had been his hand. When fireworks are lit off, those are just some of the experiences veterans like me relive against our will. We are reminded of all the sensory input when a loud trigger like that happens. When I hear loud, explosive fireworks, I can still smell burnt human remains.”

Many of the triggers to memory can be avoided, Marx said, “but sound we cannot avoid. We cannot just get over it.”

Marx said people can say it is unpatriotic to ban fireworks, “as if they get to choose what upsets veterans. They don’t. Veterans don’t even get to decide what affects us. How our brains respond to reminders of past trauma — that’s literally what PTSD is.” PTSD is “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“Patriotism can be as simple as not reminding veterans of the sounds they lost their brothers in arms to. I urge you all to consider strengthening the fines and penalties associated the fireworks in Burien. That would be an act of patriotism.”

Interim Parks director
City Manager Brian Wilson introduced Casey Stanley, Burien’s new interim parks director, following the recent retirement of Steve Roemer. Stanley has been with the city in the recreation department for many years, said Wilson.

Jack Mayne

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