Field of Paine

In recent weeks I’ve had an interesting experience in citizen advocacy and how it works, or doesn’t.  As I write this the issue is unresolved. 

 I live within a couple of miles of Paine Field in Snohomish County which is used for general aviation and  Boeing test flights.  When we moved here 16 years ago we were told that Paine Field would only be used for general aviation and Boeing.  That has meant a few jets a month overhead that shake the house.  But mostly it has been a wonderful place to raise a family. 

Now there is a request by the county who runs the airport to allow commercial air service.  Two airlines (Horizon and Allegiant) have asked for the right to launch service in 2011 with about 30 flights a week.  Their five-year projection shows that increasing to about 70 flights a week.

As a part of the process the airport must, by law, do an Environmental Assessment (EA) study to determine the impact of such a decision on noise, air quality and traffic to the surrounding communities. 

That study has been completed and it was presented in three town hall meetings to the citizens.  Here is where it gets interesting. 

The Citizen POV:

 The surrounding communities are overwhelmingly opposed to the prospect of commercial air service.   Generally the citizens feel that this new service will increase traffic, noise and pollution to unacceptable levels.  Moreover there are very real concerns about the impact on house values and the subsequent decline in County services from the property tax erosion.   Finally, there is a strong belief airport expansion will attract the usual airport business blight that surrounds most commercial airports.

In summary, the citizens feel there will be a fundamental loss in quality of life.

The Government POV:  

More jobs, attract new businesses, greater air service convenience, and growth in the tax base represent a general improvement for the South Snohomish area. 

The Back Story:

The FAA threatened the Snohomish County Council with withholding all Federal funds for anything if this is not approved.  An airport planning consultancy hired by the airport did the Environmental Assessment and said there would be no significant impact on quality of life.  The consultant has worked for airports around the country and is always pro-airport expansion.  It is not an independent research company.

Now What?

Citizens are writing letters and signing petitions.  The County Council is meeting behind closed doors.   It is unclear how and when a decision will be made.  It is clear that citizens do not get to vote on this issue. 

Paraphrasing the Senator from Hoquiam:  When it comes time for the important stuff, we suspend the will of the people.  More and more, I’m seeing that the will of the people only works when we go to the polls.

When our elected representatives are checking the pulse of the people it appears to just be window dressing.  “Hey, I was at the meeting and said something.”  or  “I sent you a form letter, didn’t you get it?”  Of course, when government appointees are making decisions they don’t really even have to pretend they care. 

They can just do what’s best for themselves.

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