For roughly 20 years there has been a discussion-turned debate-turned battle raging in Everett and Snohomish County over the potential for introducing commercial air passenger service to Paine Field. I recently posted a two-part story on this over at the Seattle Examiner (Part One - Part Two). What I would like to do here is give my personal take on the subject and ask others to join in. I would especially like for those who are represented on the Snohomish County Council or Everett City Council to make your voices heard there as the deliberations and negotiations continue.
Up front; I am opposed to bringing any commercial passenger service on to Paine Field. I think it is only right that I mention that I first lived in Everett from 1962 until 1966 while my father was stationed at Paine Field. I lived not far from the air base and attended school at Fairmont Elementary (directly across the street from the base) for a year. I also lived in Mukilteo during that time and attended Rose Hill Elementary. We moved from Everett to Tacoma when my dad's unit was transferred to McChord AFB and I lived on base there. I have spent many years with airplane noises as part of my environment. This isn't to say I would not consider it a factor when deciding to buy a house close to a busy airport; just saying that it would not necessarily be THE deciding factor.
The proponents of passenger flights talk about the potential for increased revenue to the area. They point to the fact that, with Boeing already taking off and landing at Paine Field, jet air traffic already exists in the community. And they argue that adding passenger service from Everett would reduce I-5 traffic to Sea-Tac. Most of the proponents for this service come from the Everett and Snohomish County business community and (just recently) the City of Everett and the Port of Everett.
The opponents mostly argue about quality of life issues; noise pollution, reduction of property values, and long-term harm to students in area schools. While they concede that traffic would be reduced on I-5, they point out the obvious; that such traffic would then be diverted to the surface streets of the various communities surrounding the airport. The opponents to bringing passenger service to Paine Field include citizens and homeowners who live in close proximity to the airfield, environmental activists, and the cities of Mukilteo, Edmonds, and Lynnwood who have all passed resolutions in opposition to passenger service at Paine Field.
For me, as a resident of North Everett, and therefore not one who might be directly impacted by the increase in air traffic and its resultant noise, I base my opposition mostly on the increase in surface street traffic that new passenger service would bring. While the proponents and both of the airlines currently in negotiations with the county suggest that only "limited service" is being proposed, most rational people know that, things never recede - they only continue to grow. Take the case of Allegiant Air. They are currently flying out of Bellingham to Las Vegas. They began service at two flights per week. They are currently at 10 flights per week. Horizon Air says, for now, that they only intend to augment their service at Sea-Tac. However, once they are faced with increasing fees from the Port of Seattle to help pay for the construction of that facility's new 3rd runway, what will prohibit them from simply re-locating their entire operation to the new "Snohomish County International Airport"? For that matter, what would stop Delta or any of the other smaller regional providers from following suit once the county opens the door for this type of service?
Now if you have ever attempted to get anywhere along Highway 99 during peak hours you must imagine what it would be like with new cars, shuttle vans, and busses trying to get to Paine Field for that flight to Spokane. If you are already sitting behind countless cars on the "Boeing Freeway" during shift change, just imagine the added burden of shuttle buses or single passenger vehicles coming in from Monroe, Stanwood, Mountlake Terrace, and beyond making their way to catch that Friday evening flight to Vegas. Oh, and let's not forget those folks just trying to get home from work from the various aerospace companies who located along Airport Road to be closer to Boeing and yet just a moment's drive back to the residential neighborhoods surrounding the airport where their employees live and raise their families - "honey, I'll be a bit later getting home for supper."
For those who ask, doesn't the potential for new revenues to county businesses offset the concerns of the opponents; I can only wonder where these revenues are going to come from. Just north of Everett, the Tulalip Tribe has just completed their new Resort and Spa - conveniently attached to their shiny big casino. From all reports, folks are flocking there from all over the area; even coming by the bus load from Canada. That brings us back to Allegiant Air and their intention of making anywhere from two to four flights per week from Everett to Las Vegas. Now I'm not much of a gambler but I would have to say, I think the odds of increased revenue would seem to favor Vegas. I like Everett. I have lived here a good number of the years of my lifetime. I just can't seem to bring myself to buy into the Mayor's vision of Everett as a "destination city." Perhaps he's counting on the numbers of folks who will be flocking to see the new condos and Riverfront Mall the city is so busy promoting - lord knows folks don't have anything like that back home in Spokane, Portland, or Las Vegas; the places that would be sending folks our way on the return flights.
The bottom line for me is that we have a handful of business leaders (many of whom pay handsomely into the campaigns of municipal candidates) who are jumping at the possibility of having their own personal fleet of planes to take them on that business/personal trip to Vegas or Portland and being spared the time it takes to drive (or take light rail) to Sea-Tac. They are not concerned about the average citizen in their community who will end up subsidizing this debacle with their time and quality of life. Perhaps the most despicable folks in this whole misadventure are the members of the Everett City Council and the mayor who continue to make decisions for our city based upon what they see as the best business interests and disregard the human interests of those for whom they are elected to represent.
Chad (The Left) Shue