Goodbye CACC, hello CACWG?

Legislation would create successor to much-debated airport commission

It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but the possible successor to the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) is here: The CACWG.

That stands for the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Work Group, proposed in House Bill 1791. It would be tasked with replacing the CACC and investigating airport capacity in the state, along with the best ways to address aviation needs over the next 20 years.

The CACC, as we’ve reported, was a legislatively-created commission tasked with delivering a recommendation this summer on how to expand the state’s commercial airport capacity. Proponents of the bill, and the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT), have said the state could deal with massive amounts of passengers and air cargo over current capacity by 2050.

The Enumclaw Plateau got roped into the conversation because it was the highest-ranking of ten initial “greenfield” sites evaluated by a WSDOT consultant last year. But the CACC was barred from recommending it, and FAA airspace issues may make the location impossible anyway. The CACC recommended building a new airport in Pierce or Thurston County, but those sites have significant environmental and infrastructural hurdles, military space conflicts and little support from local residents and leaders.

The CACC members “worked hard (and) gave it their best shot,” but the sites turned up aren’t appropriate, Rep. Tom Dent (Moses Lake – R) said at a Feb. 16 transportation hearing. So a dozen legislators, including him and prime sponsor Rep. Jake Fey (D – Olympia) have proposed a new commission to take baton from the CACC when it finishes this summer by ranking the options it’s already researched against other ideas.

The CACC “was flawed by having a deadline and a single site to address,” Rep. Fey said during the hearing. “… It doesn’t need to come down to one site. Secondly, the effort by staff, (while) admirable, was under-resourced. … I apologize for that. I think that’s led to a lot of concern … because it took many members of the public by surprise.”

The CACWG would be an indefinite group providing annual reports to the legislature on all the options available to handle aviation capacity, including selecting no site for a new airport — unlike the CACC, which was given a strict deadline by which to recommend one specific site for a new or expanded commercial airport.

The work isn’t cheap. A legislative fiscal note estimates the new commission would cost $1.93 million in the 2023-2025 biennium (two-year budget period) and roughly $1.75 in future biennia to pay for staff, travel and consultant expenses.

The bill has until Feb. 24 to make it out of committee, and March 8 is the deadline for lawmakers to pass it out of the House.

Under HB 1791, SeaTac, Boeing Field and any sites interfering with military sites like Joint Base Lewis-McChord would remain off the table, and that spells trouble for building an airport on the three already-identified CACC sites in Pierce and Thurston counties.

“There is, I believe, a strong likelihood that those sites probably all have conflicts with operation of JBLM,” Fey said.

During public comment, some citizens asked legislators to go further. Mary Cebell asked for an amendment explicitly blocking the CACWG from considering the three CACC sites.

“I would like that added on, for all of us who have been put through a lot of sleepless nights,” she said.

Dylan Orion similarly said: “We want an apology from the CACC for the heartache we’ve been put through. … Literally sleepless nights.”

They also spoke to the dangers of global climate change, exacerbated by commercial aviation, and called on legislators to consider something different from a new international airport altogether.

“Our planet can’t take another hit like this,” said Melonie Rockwell.

Kym Anton, who represents the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association, put it succinctly: “No means no.”

The workgroup should be able to consider optimizing sites like SeaTac and JBLM, she said, including the possibility of building a hub near the McChord airfield that could offload cargo services from SeaTac and Boeing and connect with trucking and businesses like Amazon and FedEx.

A breakdown of the differences between the CACC and CACWG appears below.

The CACC (SB 5370, 2019).

Purpose: Identify a location for a new primary commercial aviation facility in Washington.

Voting Members: Fifteen total. Four from airports and ports, three from airline / private industries, two citizen representatives, one each from freight and trucking, one each from a community and environmental organization, and one each from the Departments of Commerce and Transportation.

Task: Produce a recommendation on the state’s commercial aviation facility needs, and identify a location for a new primary commercial airport.

Limitations: Can’t consider a new or expanded site in King County, or in the incompatible vicinity of a military installation

Deadline: July 2023 (extended from original deadline due to COVID-19.)

The CACWG (HB 1791, 2023)

Purpose: Investigate statewide airport capacity and aviation needs over the next 20 years.

Voting Members: Nineteen total. Four from airports and ports, three from airline or a related industry, seven citizen representatives, one each from freight and trucking, one from a community organization and two from environmental organizations.

Task: Investigate the expansion of existing aviation facilities and possible siting of a new greenfield, or alternatives to doing so, with a report comparing each option.

Limitations: Can’t consider expanding a port- or county-run airport in King County, or a plan incompatible with a military installation.

Deadline: Submit a progress report by Jan. 1 annually.