Pierce County officials sent a joint letter to the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission chair objecting to two greenfield spaces as a potential airport location.
The commission was considering two potential locations — one in central Pierce County, near Eatonville, and one in east Pierce County. Officials object to these locations because they deem the sites to have “significant infrastructure and environmental barriers,” per the joint letter.
The CACC recommended three sites for a new commercial airport in Washington state because Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is on track to exceed its capacity by 2050.
From a list of 10 greenfield spaces made by the commission, the three recommended sites include the two in Pierce County opposed by county officials and one in Thurston County in east Olympia.
The commission, which stems from the Washington State Department of Transportation, consists of 15 members. The commission voted 12-0, with one abstention, for the three locations as part of a plan that also includes looking into adding capacity to the Snohomish County Airport. That airport was one of six being considered, as previously reported by The Center Square.
Pierce County officials say that the two greenfield spaces are in rural areas five miles outside of the county’s “urban growth area,” and do not have the infrastructure capable of supporting an airport.
“The transportation, sewer and water infrastructure necessary to support the contemplated airport simply does not exist and there are no plans to provide this infrastructure in the future,” the letter states.
The officials added that there is no transit service available to that area or planned in the future.
Both Pierce County sites sit atop the Central Pierce County Aquifer, according to the letter. That is the primary source of drinking water for communities within the county. Officials say an airport in either of the locations could also pollute the surrounding areas and affect local salmon populations.
In an Oct. 11 letter to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Nisqually Indian Tribe Tribal Council also objected to the proposed sites, stating they each “present substantial risks to the treaty-right resources and well-being of the Nisqually Indian Tribe …”
According to the letter, the Nisqually Tribe has landholdings, enterprises and programs in each of the proposed site areas.
“The siting of a major airport in our watershed and adjacent lands will have substantial and irreparable impacts to our treaty-right resources and our culture,” according to the letter. “The Nisqually Watershed has long been recognized for our collaborative work to protect and restore critical habitats for fish and wildlife and the enjoyment of all. A major industrial use that a commercial airport represents is contrary to these efforts and will directly and indirectly harm all of our work and threaten the quality of our waters, air, and lands forever.
“We are concerned about the direct impacts of the increase in noise, traffic, air pollution, and water quality and quantity associated with a major industrial use like a commercial airport,” the letter continued. “We are also significantly concerned about the indirect impacts of the support facilities that will move into the area and change the very nature of our rural communities into urban sprawl. The ancillary impacts of significantly promoting growth in the adjacent areas must be considered in your evaluation and is central to our opposition. Airports should be located in identified urban growth areas, not rural areas dedicated to support those urban areas.”
Commission Chair David Fleckenstein said in a virtual meeting recently that airspace, infrastructure requirements, air cargo, community impact, environmental challenges and cost estimates will be part of the analysis.
“It’s also important for everyone to understand that additional analysis is going to be necessary on any site recommended,” Fleckenstein said. “It does not mean a new airport will be located on one of those sites, as they all have their unique challenges that have to be thought about and addressed.”
The commission expects to narrow its recommendations to a single site for a new airport by June 2023.
The Washington State Department of Transportation did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment.
— Dispatch editor Jessica Keller contributed to this report.