Proposed 50-year lease at Paine Field deeply flawed | SOC Corner

By Mike Moore | Feb 25, 2015

Airlines interested in providing scheduled service at Paine Field turned out to not be all that interested after all. Those of us who have studied this issue are not surprised, but that reality doesn’t stop the dream or nightmare, depending on your point of view.

Now, there is a proposed 50-year land lease to support commercial flights at Paine Field which is being fast-tracked for approval by Snohomish County Council.

The involved company is Propeller Paine Field LLC which just formed on Jan. 26, 2015. But, who exactly is Propeller? What is their track record and financial condition?

Propeller ventures elsewhere seem to have a common theme: failed promises, allegations of back door deals with elected officials and plenty of red flags.

The council needs to postpone fast-track plans to approve a 50 year lease to a questionable company and conduct a due diligence review. Slow down, ask the right questions, demand verifiable answers and conduct a thorough evaluation of all aspects of this proposed 50 year partnership – in other words make sure interests of voters and taxpayers are fully considered.

Hold a public hearing at the request of Mukilteo Mayor Gregerson and perhaps get Propeller to answer council questions in public. Transparency and public input are crucial for a decision of this potential magnitude.

Instead, the council received a cordial but very general overview by the Airport Director Arif Ghouse. Questions were fairly limited in both time and scope with Councilmember Brian Sullivan asking most of the questions about default contingencies and ability to scale down the terminal from current design plans.

Council Chair Dave Somers then scheduled a possible approval action for March 2. There were no questions whatsoever about Propeller, their business model or their financial condition – none!

So what is the real story? First, some background. Snohomish County and six South Snohomish County Cities have reaffirmed opposition to commercial service at Paine Field on numerous occasions.

The county position specifically states “strongly discourage commercial service.” The core argument is not a few flights a day but the reality that once the commercial service door is opened, the FAA does not allow local limitations. Impacts can accumulate without mitigation.

The county must comply with federal law and with FAA grant funding conditions. The FAA requires good faith negotiations with those wishing to provide commercial service, but also allows lease rates to include all direct and indirect costs.

For example, the proposed 50-year lease calls for an estimated payment of $333,263 in traffic remediation, but taxpayers would pay the rest.

Several years ago, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Airlines and Alaska (then Horizon) Airlines expressed interest, which led to a flawed and limited environmental assessment that identified only minimal impacts and mitigation costs.

The FAA decision to accept those results has been legally challenged in the Ninth Circuit, with the outcome pending. During this time, Allegiant insisted on building the terminal, landing for free and being awarded control over landing fees for other airlines. The county properly rejected this proposal.

Alaska Airlines had serious issues with another airline being in charge of setting fees and also stated they were not interested in starting operations at Paine Field.

So there are no airlines pounding on the door.  Instead there is Propeller with a failed business model. Just ask the people outside Atlanta, and in Paulding and Gwinnett counties. There is no rational reason to rush this decision, and doing so raises serious concerns.

Why? Because we have developer dominated proponents led publicly by Everett’s Mayor Ray Stephanson constantly lurking in the background, pushing for commercial service with all sorts of claims that don’t hold up.

Proponents of passenger service have tried many strategies. There was a slanted market study designed to show demand to fly from Paine Field to a handful of cities but that didn’t hold up.

There are repeated unsubstantiated claims of businesses not locating here because there is no air service.

They argue that you must stay at a SeaTac hotel the night before your flight or you’ll miss it. Or, driving to Spokane is faster than flying out of SeaTac.

And let’s not forget the illogical push to subsidize flights to leisure destinations like Las Vegas to make it easier for folks here to spend money there, which supposedly would create jobs here – huh?

So, we now have this completely new approach. After decades of debate, it comes down to a two-week period, a general brief on a 50-year lease and a potential 3 to 2 vote to move forward.

Meanwhile, key issues like who Propeller is and how the lease protects the interests of the county, cities and taxpayers remain unanswered.

Save Our Communities recommends the council take a breath and thoroughly evaluate this potential game changing decision. We promote aerospace manufacturing and general aviation while opposing scheduled commercial service at Paine Field.

This airport role produces $20 billion in economic activity each year, dwarfing even SeaTac while providing family wage jobs and a high quality of life.

This decision is not just about a few flights a day. It is a half-century decision with far-reaching impacts over time, not the least of which is the potential to interfere with Boeing operations.

Remember Boeing is parking planes all over Paine Field including the land Propeller wants to lease. Unmitigated impacts will grow over time affecting traffic, schools, home values and quality of life.

Join us in asking the County Council to slow down. Ask them to conduct due diligence and not rush into a potentially fatally flawed arrangement that even the FAA could not require.

The county, cities and taxpayers deserve a fully informed decision. Call or email Chair Somers and councilmembers today! See for details.

Mike Moore is the president of Save our Communities, a non-profit group that advocates for general aviation and aerospace manufacturing while it opposes commercial air service at Paine Field.

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