Oct 14, 2022 - Real Estate

Plans for new airport rile county officials in Washington state

Illustration of an airplane on a runway shaped like a "no" symbol.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Washington needs a new commercial airport, state officials say — but local communities don't necessarily want it in their backyard.

Why it matters: By 2050, Washington's airports will need to accommodate 27 million more passengers per year than existing infrastructure can handle, state officials predict.

State of play: A state commission has narrowed the potential sites for a new airport to three, all in undeveloped rural areas of Western Washington.

Yes, but: On Wednesday, Pierce County leaders sent a letter to state officials asking that two sites be taken off the list.

  • Officials in Thurston County also have said they don't want an airport built on the third potential site, which is located east of Olympia, The Olympian reported.

Details: In Wednesday's letter, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, along with members of the County Council, wrote the two site options in Pierce "do not have the infrastructure capable of supporting an airport."

  • Among other things, the areas lack highway access, transit service and sewer and water connections, County Council Chair Derek Young told Axios Seattle on Thursday.
  • Building in either spot would also hurt the county's efforts to protect farmland and green space, Young said. Both sites are outside of the county's urban growth boundary, the area where officials have agreed to focus development as part of the state's Growth Management Act, a law designed to prevent urban sprawl, he said.
  • The suggested locations are on top of an important aquifer, too, raising concerns about potential harm to the local water supply, per the letter from Pierce County officials.

What they're saying: "This is not NIMBYism," Young said, using a common abbreviation for "not in my backyard." "It literally contradicts all of our planning."

  • He said he would prefer the state commission revisit the idea of upgrading smaller airports to handle commercial travel, rather than building a new, two-runway airport in a rural area that poses environmental concerns.
  • Separately, Thurston County manager Ramiro Chavez told The Olympian he is worried about how an airport in his county would affect sensitive animal species, such as the threatened Mazama pocket gopher.

Between the lines: In addition to looking at possible new sites, the state's airport planning commission is recommending increased air travel through Paine Field in Snohomish County, Christina Crea, a spokesperson for Washington's transportation department, wrote in an email to Axios.

  • But Crea said that expansion won't be enough to meet the state's needs — and the other small airports the state analyzed aren't suitable for commercial and cargo traffic, she said.

What's next: The airport planning commission is supposed to narrow down the site options and make a final recommendation to the Legislature by June 2023.

  • Before that, Crea said the commission will solicit community feedback and further analyze the sites.

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