Where will Washington’s new airport be? The locals fight against one of the options

An area on the border of Pierce and King counties is being considered as a potential site for an airport, and many residents are fighting against the possibility.

“We have some of the last and best farmland in…the Puget Sound area. This is very productive agricultural land that would essentially be destroyed,” said Tim O’Brien, president of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association.

The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission — created by the state legislature — must recommend a location that could house a new airport facility, as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will soon reach capacity, according to the website of the State Department of Transportation.

Sea-Tac typically serves 50 million passengers a year, according to a study by the Puget Sound Regional Council. In 2050, this number will increase as the population and jobs continue to grow in the region.

Two types of locations are considered in this process: “virgin locations” and existing airports. The Greenfield locations are undeveloped land where a new airport would be built from scratch.

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Tim O’Brien, president of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association, posing by the Green River on Monday, September 12. Members of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association heard about the proposed Southeast King County site about two months ago. Many oppose the redevelopment of this site for various reasons, including environmental impacts. Angelique Relent arelente@thenewstribune.com

The two existing airport sites on the table are Bremerton National Airport and Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field). The commission initially identified six existing airports before narrowing it down to two.

The 10 pristine sites are: North West Skagit County, South West Skagit County, North West Snohomish County, South East Snohomish County, South East King County, East Pierce County, Central Pierce County, Central Thurston County, Southern Thurston County and Lewis County. A map on the WSDOT website shows the general areas they are considering.

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The two best locations will be recommended to the Legislative Assembly in October. By June 2023, the commission will reduce its options to one. Courtesy of Washington Aviation System Plan from WSDOT

Pristine sites were judged based on their terrain, impact on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Colored) and low-income communities, and the possibility of flooding, among other factors.

The Southeast King County site earned the highest rating among the 10 pristine sites, according to CACC’s rating system. Of all the new sites and existing airport sites, the first two will be recommended to the Legislative Assembly in October. By June 2023, the commission will narrow its options down to one, according to the WSDOT website.

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Many residents oppose the redevelopment of the southeast King County site for a variety of reasons, including environmental impacts. Courtesy of Washington Aviation System Plan from WSDOT

Members of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association heard about the proposed southeast King County site about two months ago, O’Brien said. Many oppose redevelopment of the site for a variety of reasons, including potential environmental impacts.

The nonprofit Green River Coalition has been a steward of the river for many years, Vice President Bernie McKinney said. The Green River Gorge has plants that grow nowhere else, and it’s a habitat for chinook salmon, he said.

“It would be a shame to wipe it out with an airport,” McKinney said.

He worries that an airport is hunting ducks, geese and other species that live in and along the river.

Traffic would also become an issue as State Roads 164, 169 and 410 are already “clogged” at peak times, O’Brien said. There is “very limited space” to expand roads and bridges in the area to accommodate increased traffic, O’Brien said.

The Bonney Lake City Council unanimously passed a resolution on August 16, declaring the city’s opposition to the southeast King County site.

The resolution read, “The citizens of Bonney Lake would be significantly negatively impacted by proximity to a commercial airport. Having an airport in such close proximity would add traffic past the city’s already stressed and failing intersections.

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Tim O’Brien, president of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association, posing by the Green River on Monday, September 12. Members of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association heard about the proposed Southeast King County site about two months ago. Many oppose the redevelopment of this site for various reasons, including environmental impacts. Angelique Relent arelente@thenewstribune.com

The Muckleshoot Tribal Council sent a letter to the commission on September 7, requesting that the southeast King County site be removed from the list of recommendations.

“The Tribe and our partners … have invested millions of dollars to improve salmon habitat, remove barriers to salmon passage, and protect wetlands and watersheds. The introduction of a commercial airport…would put these investments at risk,” Vice Chairman Donny Stevenson wrote in the letter.

Potential sites, including Southeast King County, were considered because they are west of the Cascade Range. This makes them easier to access in bad weather, among other things, according to WSDOT’s Washington Aviation System Plan.

CACC spokeswoman Christina Crea said she could not say whether the southeast King County site would meet the top two recommendations.

“We appreciate all of the public engagement and information dissemination as it will help CACC make their decision,” Crea said.

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Angelica Relente covers topics that affect communities in East Pierce County. She started as a press intern in June 2021 after graduating from Washington State University. She was born in the Philippines and spent the rest of her childhood in Hawaii.


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