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County votes to allow commercial flights at Paine Field


Last updated 3/4/2015 at Noon

Terry Ryan

The Snohomish County Council has opened the gates to commercial flights at Paine Field.

The County Council on March 2 voted 3-2 to allow New-York based Propeller Airports to build a terminal for passenger air service at Paine Field.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick recommended approving the option to lease to allow Propeller to build the two-gate terminal on Feb. 17.

Propeller has plans to build a state-of the-art terminal and parking to support about five flights per day to regional destinations.

The investment firm requested a land lease and to build and operate a terminal last year. After months of negotiations, the county agreed to an option to lease with the council’s approval.

"Commercial air service helps to grow existing business and helps in recruiting new companies to Snohomish County,” said Councilmember Terry Ryan, who was the swing vote to approve the option to lease.

“Economic development creates jobs. Additionally, Paine Field is dependent on FAA funding for needed capital projects at the airport. I cannot jeopardize future federal funding for Paine Field.”

The option to lease is the first step in the process, said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports. A timeline for the project will become known over the next year, he said.

“Although this isn’t a done deal, we are excited that this process is moving forward and that Propeller may have the opportunity to be part of bringing limited commercial air service to Snohomish County, which will provide travel options, create jobs and generate economic activity for the region,” Smith said.

The agreement is a move opposite to several Snohomish County cities’ decades-long stance against commercial service at Paine Field. Even the County Council has affirmed and reaffirmed its opposition in the past.

At issue is the Federal Aviation Administration’s determination that found permitting commercial flights at the airport would have “no significant impact.”

Opponents argue that the FAA’s ruling and Snohomish County’s lease with Propeller could lead to the addition of even more flights in the future – and put residents’ quality of life at risk.

“I am disappointed in the County Council decision today to take a first step toward changing the role of Paine Field,” Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “Paine Field best serves our region as a significant economic engine, through aerospace manufacturing, general aviation and aviation tourism.

“It is a mistake to assume that commercial air service is a better economic development tool. I remain committed to defending the quality of life for our residents.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson spoke to the County Council in support of the lease.

“I believe, as this occurs over time, it will be a welcome addition to both our communities and our businesses,” the mayor said. “It will help us in recruiting more companies to Everett and Snohomish County, and will also help to keep the ones that are here to grow and prosper.”

Councilmember Brian Sullivan, who voted against the lease option, said it’s not the agreement but the market at Paine Field that will determine what happens as far as the number of flights.

“At best, it’s probably good that someone else will spend $10 million to provide the facility,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been an advocate of that, if this is the path we have to go down.”

He asked that language of the lease be tightened up to protect Snohomish County taxpayers.

Council Chair Dave Somers said the agreement would not fundamentally change the nature of the airport and that approving it follows federal requirements.

The FAA requires the county to make reasonable accommodations for passenger service in return for grants that it needs to keep the airport running.

“Every time we take a federal aviation grant to maintain the airport, we agree to make that airport accessible under reasonable terms to all forms of air service, including passenger service,” Somers said.

“Frankly, we rely on those dollars, Boeing relies on those dollars, all our businesses rely on those dollars.”

With an option to lease, the company will have three years to finish an environmental assessment. It will pay Snohomish County $3,575 per month, or one-tenth of the lease agreement.

After that, Propeller could sign a 30-year lease with two optional 10-year extensions.

Smith noted that lease payments to Snohomish County would total more than $25 million over the term of the lease.

“Helping them (communities) get value out of their airports is a relatively new concept in the United States,” he said. “Most have been privately owned and operated, and most of the funding comes from the government.

“As we struggle today to pay for infrastructure, people are looking at things a little smarter.”

Propeller would pay to build and operate the terminal. It would also pay the county $35,755 per month, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in mitigation fees.

In addition, the county would also share revenues from terminal operations as part of the business partnership – 2.5 percent of gross revenues for the first four years, and then 5 percent for the remainder of the lease.

When the lease is over, the terminal would revert to county ownership.

Although he is sympathetic to concerns, Smith said that an additional 8-10 flights in and out of Paine Field would be negligible and that no one would notice.

Today, Paine Field supports just over 300 flights a day for general aviation and aerospace manufacturers.

“I didn’t know airports were such a contentious issue, until recently,” Smith said. “Our role is not to get into politics. I don’t want to start a war with people in Mukilteo. If this gets done, there could be a lot of happy people.”

He said the company has also gotten some pushback for trying to add passenger air service to airports in Atlanta.


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