Gov. Jay Inslee handed an Enumclaw grassroots organization a big win earlier this month when he partially vetoed a bill creating a commission to study a new airport site.
On May 15, Inslee vetoed three sections of House Bill 1791, which aims to form the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Work Group. The CACWG’s goal is to look at airport needs in the state (spoiler alert: there are many) and eventually recommend how to address those needs.
What’s important to Enumclaw is that Inslee vetoed Section Three of the bill. Under the version that passed the state legislature, Section 3 required the commission to not examine airport expansion options in counties with a population of 2 million or more (a.k.a. King County), or examine airport expansion or the siting of a new airport that would be incompatible with military operations.
According to local grassroots organization Save The Plateau, these limitations would have kept the CACWG focused on “greenfield sites”, or new airports. This was concerning to the group, because the commission’s predecessor (the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission) had ranked an Enumclaw greenfield site high on a list of possibilities.
The fallout from this ranking was widespread, as many locals and elected officials from the city to the state fiercely critiqued the commission, arguing a lack of infrastructure and potentially-devastating environmental, social, and economic impacts. Some aviation experts also weighed in, saying a new Enumclaw airport is incompatible with the area’s geography and proximity to the SeaTac Airport.
The CACC, which is disbanding at the end of July, ultimately did not recommend the Enumclaw site, as the bill that formed that commission stipulated it could not officially recommend a new airport in King County. However, the CACC (and the new commission) can only make recommendations, and the power to create a new airport is held jointly by the state legislature, the Federal Aviation Administration, and a potential airport sponsor.
Vetoing Section 3 means the CACWG can now examine airport expansion options in King County, which Save The Plateau had spent months lobbying for.
“This law does not ‘take Enumclaw off the table’, but it will allow the future commercial aviation work group to review a broader range of aviation capacity solutions, including how existing airports can be optimized for the future, which hopefully will draw attention away from Enumclaw, aiding our future defense,” said Save the Plateau spokesperson Kim Anton in an email to supporters. “This is a huge win for all potential greenfield sites, but there is still much more work ahead to solve the aviation capacity problem, in a way that protects the Plateau.”
Anton had previously outlined a plan to optimize current airports, like making Sea-Tac a passenger-only airport and have the McChord Airfield take military and civilian cargo flights.
But the group is now also lobbying for the CACWG to look at a Yakima Air Terminal expansion, as the city of Yakima was the only city to ask for an airport expansion. A presentation created by Yakima elected officials argue, among several points, that there is “ample, undeveloped land” perfect for runway expansion and that it’s location in Central Washington, plus its proximity to Interstate 82 and various rail lines, would make it easy for flyers to come and go.
While the CACC has a June 15 deadline to officially make a recommendation on how to address. However, Inslee has instructed the commission’s final report “should reflect that the findings of the Commission do not have a single site recommendation at this time.”
The new commission does not have a deadline for when it must submit a final report. However, it is required to give annual reports, with the first due in July 2024.
While there are current expansion projects at both Sea-Tac and Paine Field in Everett underway to expand their combined capacity to 67 million annually by 2030, it’s projected that Washington state will need to accommodate upwards of 94 million passengers annually by 2050.
To contact Save The Plateau, email SaveThePlateau@outlook.com.