Best Life Thurston Mega Airport in Thurston County a Real Possibility

Mega Airport in Thurston County a Real Possibility

One location in Thurston County (called Thurston County Central) and two locations in Pierce County made the final list of three mega airport sites, as voted by the WSDOT Aviation expansion group on September 23, 2022.  All sites were deemed desirable because of the south sound location and for a two-runway layout.  Estimated flight paths were not disclosed.

Here are the relevant maps.  The map for Thurston County Central was adjusted with a best guess of the impacted area under flight paths.  WSDOT Aviation so far has not acknowledged extensive scientific research that points to under flight-path impacts.

Consequential and compensating land use rules are the best defense and protection of an airport community’s health and wealth.  Consequential airport land use rules are an excellent tool.  Local jurisdictions, such as Thurston County do not have them.  They could encompass: the definition of airport to include the five to ten mile area under ascend and descend paths, not just the footprint of the airport (plus small buffer), pollution measurement equipment under ascend and descend flight paths, as far away from the airport as ten miles and strategically placed; access by the public to the pollution data in real time; compensation for the loss of property value; disclosure to residents of health risks; rent stipends for residential renters within one, five and ten miles, graduated by distance and size of household; trust fund to compensate for health care costs related to prolonged exposure to air pollution; voluntary reduction of flight activity when acceptable levels of air and noise quality have been exceeded for three days in a row and three times a year; imposition of fines and penalties; and others that could be crowd-sourced.

The WA Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division and its commercial work committee are to discuss these locations further and decide on a final one in May or June for its final written report by June 15, 2023.

A mega airport in Thurston County is very likely to bring commercial activity to Olympia Regional Airport.

A commercial mega airport is a REALLY BIG DEAL and a HUGE IMPOSITION on any airport community.  Yet, only commercial interests are at the table and they have great influence on legislation.

First, legislators and the Governor created a legal requirement (2019 SSB 5370, and amended by 2022 ESSB 5689 Sec 707 to extend deadlines) to find a site for a new mega airport in the Puget Region.  Second, the legislation requires a 60% majority of the work group’s voting members for a final recommendation, when all the appointees of the working group, by definition or through the Governor’s hand, represent or favor commercial interests.  This process was rigged from the get-go by industry interests.

The law required a list of six mega airport sites by February 15, 2022.  WSDOT missed that deadline.  It had none.  Instead, it suggested ten potential sites on June 23, 2022. Now it voted for three, when they should have narrowed it down to two, to meet their legislative mandate with a report to the legislature by October 15, 2022. The process has been confusing and disjointed, mixed in with a lot of smoke and mirrors, regarding the airport of the future, with electric flying and so-called sustainable fuels.

Clean and quiet flying is in our future, with human ingenuity, and in very early experimental stages, but decades away from commercial application.  And even then, the business/policy model has to change.  Aviation industry members have to be required to use it, when for decades they have enjoyed exceptions and favorable treatment from legislators in Washington State and Washington DC.

More reasons for very healthy skepticism:

The basis for the growth forecasts is kept ‘confidential’ and is not clear, although the aviation industry receives billions of dollars of subsidies.  Was global warming taken into consideration, with growing uncertainties in weather patterns, and change in travel behavior?  How is the forecast taking this permanent change in business travel behavior into account?  What portion of the growing demand is natural, what portion is induced?  And these jobs, that are supposed to be created through an airport: are we just counting the jobs at an airport?  We are not off-setting with the jobs the community loses, are we?  And how many of the new jobs are decent career positions, as opposed to pay-check-to-pay-check jobs?

And:  Are goods better transported by train and truck?  How will the airline industry compensate the communities around a commercial airport for their losses: poorer health, lower property values, loss of existing jobs, change to transient businesses and loss of community?