WA airport search committee disbands without site recommendation after turbulent process
A Washington committee studying options for a new regional airport location met for the final time Friday, and will disband at the end of this month without recommending a single site to the Legislature.
The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission’s search for a new airport site was turbulent, with members slogging through a pandemic and fierce public pushback.
Commission chair Warren Hendrickson said as much at the group's final meeting.
"We recognize and acknowledge the deep levels of anxiety that people have in this decision, we recognize that people feel threatened by this work," he said.
Public opposition was especially intense after the group suggested three potential sites for a new airport in Western Washington last year.
Lawmakers created the commission in 2019, seeking solutions to concerns that the demand for commercial airport services will outgrow Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and other airfields in the region. That legislation required that the commission report back to lawmakers with a recommendation for a single site option by June 15, 2023. The group will not meet that deadline.
Commission member Steve Englizian says results from a member survey shared at the final meeting made it obvious that the group couldn't reach a clear conclusion – especially in light of the various challenges they faced throughout the process.
"There's a word that comes to mind as I look back on the last three and a half years and where we're at today, and that is that we are at a point of ambivalence," he said.
The survey results shed light on where members ultimately ended up: Many agree that a new airport location is needed, with all but one member saying none of the previously suggested sites are a realistic option. The previously proposed sites did not receive any local government support, including from sovereign tribal nations.
Survey responses also conveyed members' views on what kind of options the Legislature permitted them to consider – the 2019 legislation prohibited considering sites in King County, or those near military bases. Some members noted that those constraints hindered their search efforts, with some doubting whether it's possible to have a new airport operational by 2040.
But the search isn't over. Lawmakers approved legislation earlier this year to replace the commission with a new work group. The new group will essentially restart the search process this summer.