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Sea-Tac International Becomes First 'Salmon-Safe' Airport In the U.S.

Sea-Tac International is the fastest growing airport in North America -- and the first in the U. S. to receive certification as “Salmon Safe.” The designation recognizes work to improve water quality that goes above and beyond federal requirements.

Just west of Sea-Tac’s third runway, down the hill from a steep retaining wall, environmental specialist Josh Feigen stands in the underbrush at the edge of Miller Creek. In 2012, he says the port replaced a cement-box culvert here with woody debris, boulders and gravel to restore more than a mile of shady habitat for salmon.

“And I have seen just right down in here, in a couple spots, adult coho paired up, coming through the creek,” Feigen says. “It is nice to see that successful – the fish coming back into the projects you worked on and actually using it – really fun to see.”

It’s just one of many actions the port has taken that add up to the Salmon-Safe certification. Chief among them is the capture of all of the runoff from its runways and other surfaces. The runoff then goes through retention ponds or a treatment plant for filtration before it is released into local waterways.

The Salmon-Safe label comes from a group called Stewardship Partners, which started the program about 15 years ago with wineries and small farms.  It has since expanded to include everything from golf courses to corporate headquarters and developers such as Nike and Vulcan.

Salmon-Safe certification manager Anna Huttel says airports are the next frontier for her organization.

“Airports are huge,” she says. “With the deicing chemicals, the massive amount of hardscaping that just is inherent in an airport campus – there’s huge potential for runoff – so they’re really high priority for us.”

She says polluted runoff is the single biggest threat to the health of Puget Sound. 

Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire says getting this certification from a third party is a huge point of pride.

“I think it shows that you can grow.  You can meet our economic needs and you can do it mindful of how we’re going to protect our environment for future generations,” Gregoire said.

Sea-Tac has committed to continuing the protections in its Sustainable Airport Master Plan.

It joins Vancouver, B.C., which qualified earlier this month, to give the Pacific Northwest the first two Salmon-Safe airports in the world. Stewardship Partners says they’re hoping Portland International will be next on board.  

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