Appeals court nixes Paine Field opponents’ challenge
Efforts to stop or slow plans to build a terminal for scheduled passenger air service at Paine Field took a hit Monday from the state Court of Appeals.
The city of Mukilteo and the citizens’ group Save Our Communities (SOC) had argued that an option-to-lease agreement between Snohomish County and an East Coast developer to move forward on plans for building the terminal should be held up pending results of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
But, in a Jan. 23 opinion, the Court of Appeals sided with the county and the developer – Propeller Airports based in New York – who argued that exercising the lease option was not a “project action” that would necessitate an EIS.
Basically, the court’s ruling suggested that the city and SOC’s arguments were premature. Mukilteo’s attorneys had argued that should Propeller execute the lease, then uses of the airport would “change drastically,” and an EIS should be required to study those changes.
But the court said the city’s argument was “immaterial.
“That is because this argument focuses on what may happen after a lease is executed, not what happens during the term of the option,” the court ruled.
The city, SOC, the city of Edmonds and other opponents of efforts to launch commercial passenger service at Paine Field have been fighting since the county reversed a decades-long commitment to discourage that kind of use.
In 2015, by a 3-2 vote, the County Council approved the lease option, giving Propeller three years to design a two-gate terminal.
Propeller CEO Brett Smith said last year that he hoped construction could begin in 2017 for the 29,300-square-foot building. The new terminal would be located between the existing terminal, which serves general aviation and business aircraft, and the control tower.
On Tuesday, Smith issued a statement saying the ruling was “a win for local residents.”
He also said, “As we prepare to start construction at Paine Field, we're pleased that yet again, attempts by Mukilteo to prevent Snohomish County from realizing commercial air service have been denied.
“This decision is significant because the opposition claims were shown to be so baseless that they didn't even deserve a hearing.
“Limited commercial air service will bring more jobs and economic activity to Snohomish County, including residents of Mukilteo - not to mention better travel options and competitive fares.”
SOC President Mike Moore said Tuesday that he had not yet had an opportunity to talk with the group’s attorney, but despite Monday’s ruling he thought the court left open the possibility for requiring more environmental studies under the State Environmental Policy Act as the proposed project moves forward.
“We are studying the decision and options including reconsideration or appeal,” Moore said. “The court apparently found that the state environmental review of impacts and mitigation can be done later after the option to lease phase and before the actual lease is executed.
“We believe the county already obligated itself and the citizens to an up to 50-year lease and thus put Propeller in the driver’s seat. The assessment should have been done first to provide the county the opportunity to make a more informed decision.
“Conducting a minimal assessment after the fact should not be the answer – we can and should do better.”
In the past, both the Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air branch and Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air had expressed interest in providing service at Paine Field.
Allegiant Air, which generally runs older and noisier McDonnell Douglas MD-83 planes, tends to provide service at smaller, secondary airports like Bellingham. They had said they’d be interested in providing service to markets such as Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix.
Alaska indicated they primarily would be interested in adding service at Paine to protect their turf if Allegiant or any other provider decided to offer flights here. Alaska already has a robust operation at Sea-Tac, which is its main hub.
If Alaska were to begin operations here, it mostly would fly Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops, serving Spokane, Portland, San Francisco and other West Coast destinations.
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and Community Development Director Patricia Love did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Jason Cummings, Snohomish County’s chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.