An area on the border of Pierce and King counties is being considered as a potential site for an airport, and many locals are fighting against that possibility.
“We’ve got some of the last and best farmland in ... the Puget Sound area. It’s very productive farmland that would essentially be destroyed,” said Tim O’Brien, president of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association.
The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission — created by the state Legislature — must recommend a location that could house a new airport facility as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will soon reach capacity, according to the state Department of Transportation’s website.
Sea-Tac typically serves 50 million passengers per year, according to a study from the Puget Sound Regional Council. Come 2050, that number will increase as the population and jobs continue to grow in the region.
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Two types of locations are considered in this process: “greenfield locations” and existing airports. Greenfield locations are undeveloped land where a new airport would be constructed from the ground up.
The two existing airport sites on the table are Bremerton National Airport and Snohomish County (Paine Field) Airport. The commission initially identified six existing airports before narrowing it down to two.
The 10 greenfield locations are: Skagit County Northwest, Skagit County Southwest, Snohomish County Northwest, Snohomish County Southeast, King County Southeast, Pierce County East, Pierce County Central, Thurston County Central, Thurston County South and Lewis County.
The greenfield locations were judged based on their terrain, impact on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and low-income communities, and the possibility of flooding, among other factors.
The King County Southeast site had the best rating out of the 10 greenfield locations, according to CACC’s rating system. Of all the greenfield locations and existing airport sites, the top two will be recommended to the Legislature in October. By June 2023, the commission will narrow its options to one, according to the WSDOT website.
Members of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association learned about the King County Southeast site proposal about two months ago, O’Brien said. Many are opposed to redeveloping the site for various reasons, including potential environmental impacts.
The Green River Coalition, a nonprofit organization, has been a steward of the river for many years, vice president Bernie McKinney said. The Green River Gorge has plants that do not grow anywhere else, and it is a habitat for Chinook salmon, he said.
“It would be a shame to wipe it out with an airport,” McKinney said.
He worries an airport would drive away ducks, geese, and other species that live in and along the river.
Traffic would also become an issue as state Routes 164, 169 and 410 are already “clogged” during rush hour, O’Brien said. There’s “very limited space” to expand roads and bridges in the area to accommodate increased traffic, O’Brien said.
The Bonney Lake City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Aug. 16, declaring the city’s opposition to the King County Southeast site.
The resolution said: “Bonney Lake citizens would be heavily impacted in a negative way by having a commercial airport so close. Having an airport in such close proximity would add traffic beyond the already stressed and failing intersections in the city.”
The Muckleshoot Tribal Council sent a letter to the commission on Sept. 7, requesting that the King County Southeast site be removed from the list of recommendations.
“The tribe and our partners ... have invested many millions of dollars to improve salmon habitat, remove salmon passage barriers and protect wetlands and watersheds. Introducing a commercial airport ... would put those investments in jeopardy,” Vice Chair Donny Stevenson wrote in the letter.
Potential sites, including King County Southeast, were considered because they are west of the Cascade Range. That makes them easier to access during inclement weather, among other things, according to WSDOT’s Washington Aviation System Plan.
CACC spokesperson Christina Crea said she cannot comment on if the King County Southeast site will make it to the top two recommendations.
“We appreciate all the public engagement and spreading the word because that will help CACC make their decision,” Crea said.