Local mayors, legislators, county officials pen letter against King County SE airport

A full copy of the letter is attached to this story.

A broad coalition of city, county and state representatives have signed a joint letter urging commissioners studying state airport needs to drop the hypothetical “East King County” site from their considerations.

The letter is signed by the mayors of Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Enumclaw, Maple Valley, all three 31st Legislative District representatives, county councilmember Reagan Dunn and County Executive Dow Constantine. (A copy of the full letter is embedded below.)

Many of the letter writers have previously criticized the project, and the Muckleshoot Tribal Council also voiced their concerns and opposition to the location in a letter to the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) this month.

So far, the Courier-Herald is not aware of any local political leaders who openly support the project.

Recognizing “the difficult task” the CACC faces in recommending a new airport site, and the fact that no site will be free of criticism, the letter signers nonetheless called on CACC chair David Fleckenstein to remove the King County site from consideration. (The site was detailed in a June presentation to the CACC by a state Department of Transportation consultant.)

The commission must select its top two sites next month and then has until June next year to make a final recommendation to the legislature. The CACC’s next virtual meeting will be held Sept. 23 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. You can join at https://bit.ly/Sept232022.

WSDOT Aviation Senior Planner Robert Hodgman, who serves on the CACC, said in an earlier interview with the Courier-Herald that the commission won’t recommend SE King County: “The CACC can’t consider it because it’s legislatively not an option … The CACC will not be recommending anything in King County.”

Regardless, the CACC is only tasked with providing reports and recommendations to the legislature, and has no power to place or build an airport itself. Three entities have the power to decide where an airport does or doesn’t go: The FAA, which regulates and partially funds airports, the state legislature, which would approve funding for related infrastructure, and an airport sponsor, which would actually manage the facility.

The letter from local leaders provides a different view on the “essential factors” used in a WSDOT consultant’s initial ranking of the site, which found the King County site the most attractive option out of ten greenfield sites.

South King County and its residents have already been harmed by their proximity to SeaTac for decades, and adding a new airport would only worsen those issues, the letter writers say.

Specifically, the letter writers say: The site’s proposed location – immediately east of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe reservation – would separate the tribe from their own lands at the Tomanamus Forest, a 90,000 acre ancestral hunting and gathering area about six miles to the east.

The White River Amphitheatre, less than a mile away from the runway, would be subject to air traffic noise that would affect outdoor shows.

The 6-mile diameter area proposed for the site would include several square miles which are protected under the decades-old King County Farmlands Preservation Program, an agreement voters forged with King County specifically to preserve farmland on the Plateau.

Millions of dollars spent to improve critical salmon habitat in the Newaukum and Pussyfoot Creek watersheds could be invalidated, as the project could devastate or outright destroy those watersheds.

SR 164 already faces traffic concerns and is under-developed. Adding a new airport would put huge pressure on major highways throughout the region and necessitate major infrastructure projects.

The site is close to the Auburn Municipal Airport, which already handles more than 140,000 operations annually. Putting a new airport nearby would choke off the Auburn airport “and create long-lasting negative constraints to the facility.” It could also jeopardize flights and training at the already existing small-scale Enumclaw Airport, and other private airports on the Plateau.

“Our input and request is simple,” the letter concludes. “Follow the legislative directive … and eliminate the East King County (previously King County Southeast) greenfield site from consideration.”

The letter’s signatories are:

• Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus

• Black Diamond Mayor Carol Benson

• Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner

• Enumclaw Mayor Jan Molinaro

• Maple Valley Mayor Sean Kelly

• King County Executive Dow Constantine

• King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn

• 31st Legislative District Senator Phil Fortunato

• 31st Legislative District Representative Eric Robertson

• 31st Legislative District Representative Drew Stokesbary

The letter sent to the CACC… by Alex Bruell