New commercial airport site search in WA may get a do-over
A bill that would effectively do-over Washington's search for a new commercial airport has passed a key committee vote in Olympia.
The legislation comes in response to criticism that the initial effort to find a possible new commercial airport site was rushed, incomplete, and under-resourced. Three proposed sites suggested by a state commission were met with overwhelming public opposition.
One sponsor of the bill, House Democrat Jake Fey (D-Tacoma) has called the legislature's initial approach to the issue "flawed." A bill passed in 2019 required the commission to make a single site recommendation by June of this year and the process was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering public outreach efforts.
"It was flawed in several ways, it was flawed by having a deadline and a single site to address future commercial aviation needs in the state," Fey said.
New legislation under consideration this year, House Bill 1791, would not include a requirement for a single site proposal – instead a larger, more publicly-oriented work group would provide annual progress reports as it analyzes the state's options for airport expansion.
Bill co-sponsor, Representative Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), said the goal is to solve how the state can address growing travel needs, new airport or not.
"We owe it to the citizens of the State of Washington to determine if we need a new airport and if we do, I think we owe it to them to look for a siting of it," he said.
At the bill's first public hearing, many people who testified in opposition to the legislation raised concerns about the potential impact of a new airport on the environment and property owners.
Many people opposed to the bill said increased air travel in the region would subsequently increase pollution as more communities grapple with the effects of climate change, with some urging lawmakers to consider options like high-speed rail.
Laura Orion from Thurston County said the bill would extend a frustrating process for alarmed homeowners who live on potential "greenfield" sites and worry about losing their land in favor of new runways.
"People live in these quote unquote green fields," she said.
But people in support of a new work group and broader approach say the bill is a much-needed improvement compared to the state's initial take. A city councilmember from Yakima, Patricia Byers, urged lawmakers to look to Eastern Washington as an option.
"We want to be looked at," Byers said.
The committee approved the bill 24 to 4.
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