Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What is this all about?
A) The Washington State Legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 5370 back in 2019 with the goal “to identify a location for a new primary commercial aviation facility in Washington.” Their justifications about the need for a new airport include anticipated negative impacts on travelers and consumers (higher ticket prices and delays) as well as loss of business and jobs based on forecasts that estimate Sea-Tac Airport’s capacity will be exceeded by 2050. Source: WSDOT-CACC-Capacity-Graphic-final.pdf
Q) What does it mean that Gov Inslee signed ESHB 1791 but vetoed parts of it?
A) ESHB 1791 as passed by the Legislature contained 8 sections. Gov Inslee signed the bill on May 15, 2023 but vetoed sections 3, 5, 7 and 8 (note that he can only veto the entire bill or whole sections, not individual words of lines). The veto of each section is explained in Veto Message 420. The bill still effectively ends the CACC (directing the CACC to report "they do not have a single site recommendation at this time") and prioritizes improvement/expansion of existing airports over siting a new airport. This should protect the greenfield sites identified by the CACC.
Q) What does HB 1791 do and how is it different from the legislation that created the CACC?
A) In response to persistent feedback from Washington state residents, Representatives Tom Dent (Moses Lake) and Jake Fey (Tacoma) wrote new legislation which passed the Senate (Apr 12) and the House (Apr 18), was signed by the Speaker (Apr 18) and President of the Senate (Apr 19), then was delivered to the Governor (Apr 20). It is scheduled to be signed on May 15. This is not just a restart, it’s an improved process that includes several key elements our citizen groups lobbied for. Some of the differences:
Creates a new Commercial Aviation Work Group (CAWG) which replaces the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC).
Avoids the recommendation of one of the three greenfield sites by the CACC.
Requires “a list of areas that will not have further review as the areas are in conflict with the operations of a military installation” to be provided in its first report (July 2024).
Changes the focus from recommending a single site for a new airport to investigating airport capacity and needs in the context of overall state transportation needs "using independent verifiable data."
Improves the balance by reducing the number of seats for industry (from 12 to 10) and increasing the seats for citizens & environmentalists (from 3 to 9). The CACC had 15 voting members with only two citizen representatives and one representative from an environmental organization (the rest were from the airline and shipping industries). Of the 19 voting CAWG members, seven will be citizens and two will be from environmental agencies. See the table that shows both groups.
Strengthens the wording against siting near military operations (Section 4).
Includes all WA airports for possible improvements or expansion (King Country was omitted previously).
Requires outreach and collaboration with Federal Agencies, Indian Tribes, the environmental community, local communities, and economic development agencies.
Q) What is the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC)?
A) The CACC is a group (member list and bios) created by SSB 5370 (2019) consisting of representatives from the transportation and shipping industries, aviation, and several legislators. It was defined to have 15 voting members and 12 non-voting members (only 11 of the voting member seats are currently filled). This is the group, along with their consultants Kimley-Horn, that have developed a plan to expand existing airports and site a new airport in western Washington.
Q) What is the supposed need for increased airport capacity based on?
A) The CACC states that “A number of aviation studies, including the Regional Aviation Baseline Study currently being undertaken by the Puget Sound Regional Council, indicate that by 2050 Sea-Tac will exceed its current capacity by 27M enplanements. Similarly, by 2050, air cargo demand is expected to more than double from 552,000 to 1.3 million metric tons. If Washington’s aviation system cannot accommodate demand, our jobs and economy will be impacted.” Many residents are questioning these projections and pointing out that we don't have a jobs problem (we do however have a housing problem which will be made worse by razing homes for an airport, freeway, and supporting infrastructure).
Q) Weren't they supposed to decide between expanding Paine Field or a new greenfield site?
A) The wording has been vague, but the 10/14/2022 update from the CACC was clear that they are pursuing both. See wsdot.wa.gov/travel/aviation/commercial-aviation-coordinating-commission
Q) Where will this airport be built?
A) The CACC's plan narrowed the list of greenfield sites to three locations - this was reduced from an original group of ten sites. (They use the term “greenfield” to mean a new airport.) The current sites being considered are Thurston County Central (East Olympia), Pierce County Central and Pierce County East. The CACC is tasked with recommending one site to the legislature by June 15, 2023.
Q) How likely is the Thurston County Central site to be chosen?
A) This is unknown, though several representatives have been commenting recently that none of the 3 greenfield sites are viable. There is also a conflict with JBLM which prompted the Thurston group to file a complaint with the Washington Office of the Attorney General on Jan 9. A greenfield site in Thurston County (near Black Lake) was included in a presentation to the City of Mukilteo in Oct 2020 but was eliminated some time prior to the CACC announcing the 10 sites in the summer of 2022. The CACC has a deadline of June 15, 2023 to recommend one site to the legislature. Decisions and additional planning will then be up to the legislature.
Q) I’m in the six-mile circle in Thurston County, if chosen how soon would I have to leave?
A) Any greenfield site chosen for a new airport would still have many hurdles and possibly years of legal battles ahead. The CACC has also stated that the circle could be moved so is not the ultimate placement. The CACC’s decision in June 2023 is also just a recommendation - it is still up to the Washington Legislature to decide what to do with that information. It’s important we continue to advocate against a new airport, but the chances of anyone being removed from their homes in the few years are very slim.
Q) Will the entire six-mile diameter circle be used for the airport?
A) The WASP Screening Process 2022 lists three possible layouts, though it stands to reason there will be additional space needed for parking, hotels, restaurants, auto rentals, warehouses, etc. The 2 Runway layout (approximately 1.21 miles by 4.05 miles) is most commonly referenced, but the layouts defined are:
1 Runway - 2,400 acres
2 Runways - 3,100 acres
3 Runways - 4,670 acres
It’s important to note that most of the lower right section of the Thurston County circle is JBLM property.
Q) Can property be acquired through eminent domain in the state of Washington?
A) Yes. The eminent domain process includes payment of fair market value (FMV) as well as considerations for other financial factors. It requires cooperation by the property owner but it is important to know that refusal to sell or leave is not an option for the owner. We recommend reviewing the FAA’s Airport Land Acquisition process and reading up on recent examples, like the high capacity transportation system or West Seattle Light Rail project or City of Seattle abuses eminent domain so a parking lot can become a parking lot to prepare for this possibility. We are working on a document outlining the details of the process and what to expect and will publish this soon.
Q) Is this a domestic or international airport being proposed?
A) The proposal by the CACC is for a commercial airport that can service domestic passengers and international cargo. Note that Layout 2 is larger than SEA which is 2,500 acres, so this is not a small (or regional) airport as some are thinking.
Q) What are the ‘phases’ of the CACC’s plan?
A) The legislation defined four phases: (i) Initiating a broad review of potential sites; (ii) Recommending a final short list of no more than six locations by January 1, 2021; (iii) Identifying the top two locations from the final six locations by September 1, 2021; and (iv) Identifying a single preferred location for a new primary commercial aviation facility by January 1, 2022. Note that the dates have been amended in subsequent legislation, and the CACC website lists these new dates in 3 phases:
Phase 1: Provide an initial list of six possible locations to the Legislature by January 1, 2021 [Completed].
Phase 2: Provide a list of the top two locations (options) by October 15, 2022 [Completed].
Phase 3: Provide a single preferred location recommendation by June 15, 2023.
Q) Why should I care about this if I don’t live within the six-mile-diameter circle?
A) The CACC has stated that the circles are approximate and the location could move based on their analysis. Also, in addition to the actual airport, other properties will be required for infrastructure - widened roads/freeways to connect to I-5, water, sewer, power, etc. Drinking water in the area will most likely be affected, and there will be increases in air pollution and traffic. All of this will also need to be paid for. If your home or business is not acquired through eminent domain you will possibly be paying for eminent domain acquisitions and construction through increased taxes.
Q) Why don’t they just build the airport at [insert other location here]?
A) The CACC considered multiple locations that fit criteria outlined by the legislation. While we agree the negative impacts to the locations currently being considered make them terrible choices, we don’t want other communities to face a similar situation based on what we believe to be flawed projections and artificial demand.
Q) All I’ve seen is opposition, so who actually wants a new airport?
A) See the CACC’s Commonly Asked Questions and Understanding the Capacity Issue as well as SSB 5370 (2019) which states “The legislature also finds that advancing Washington's position as a national and international trading leader is dependent upon the development of a highly competitive, statewide passenger and cargo air transportation system.” The bill was written by the Senate Transportation Committee (originally sponsored by Senators Keiser, Warnick, Saldaña, Hasegawa, Wilson, C., and Honeyford).
Q) Is there a law against building a new airport in King County?
A) SSB 5370 in Section 3.1.a states “excluding those located in a county with a population of two million or more” which in Washington state is only King County. This only limits the CACC from recommending a site there (WSDOT and others are still analyzing all possible locations). Note that a representative for the city of SeaTac, Karen Keiser said she “has sought to protect her constituents from even more air traffic, noting that King County property owners already pay a tax for aviation. Recalling her community’s historical battles with Sea-Tac operator, Port of Seattle, she also said it was important that no project be ramrodded into place against the will of locals.”
Update: ESHB 1791 (2023) filed 2/7/2023 modifies this limitation: "The work group shall not consider: Expansion opportunities for a port or county run airport located in a county with a population of 2,000,000 or more" and an amendment proposed by Sen. Fortunato to completely eliminate King County (again) failed to be adopted, so King County is included for a potential greenfield site.
Q) Are you working with any other groups who are also trying to stop the airport?
A) Yes. We are working with several environmental groups (e.g. Tacoma Audubon) as well as the Coalition Against Graham and Eatonville-Roy Airports who, like us, oppose any new airport in Washington State. Both Nisqually and Puyallup Tribes have also expressed their opposition to these sites.
Q) How important are environmental issues and endangered species in fighting a new airport?
A) Environmental issues are significant. There are protected wetlands, surface waters, aquifers, federally threatened and endangered species, and permanently protected habitats; all supported with laws and regulations for protection. If a greenfield site is chosen, there will be much more detailed study needed. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). There would need to be consultation with experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on each federally threatened or endangered species that could be impacted. Alternatives would need to be considered under these regulations. There are likely other environmental hurdles, but the ones mentioned here would be very time consuming and expensive. These environmental issues should be considered by the CACC before selecting any greenfield site, rather than determining that environmental impacts cannot be mitigated after they select a site. See our Fact Sheets for more info.
Q) Have you contacted Governor Inslee or state legislators who created the legislation?
A) Yes, we have reached out to the Governor and many Washington state legislators. The reply from Gov Inslee’s office was, “Unfortunately, this is a county issue which is outside the Governor's jurisdiction. We encourage you to contact your county government, as they may be able to assist you with this matter.” It is important to note all local government representatives (including the Olympia Port Commission) have unanimously expressed their opposition to a new airport in Thurston County. Several reps spoke at our rally on Jan 25 voicing their opposition to the CACC's plan. See our list of leaders which includes known positions/statements regarding the proposed greenfield sites.
Q) How do I find my legislator(s) to contact them?
A) Type your address into the fields at app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder and click the “Find My District” button. You can view lists of Senators or Representatives or All by District. We also have a page with email addresses for the transportation committee members, etc.
Q) Will writing letters to the government have any real effect on the outcome of this?
A) Contacting your local and state government is a very important part of this, since they need to understand the needs and concerns of the people they represent, but other efforts must also be pursued to make a difference.
Q) What’s the plan for direct action with the Legislature?
A) Along with testifying at public hearings for new legislation, we organized a rally and meetings with representatives on Wed Jan 25. These have been followed up with direct meetings. Please contact your representatives to schedule time to help them understand your concerns.
Q) Can we send mailers out to reach more residents?
A) We are looking into ways to make up for the CACC's lack of community outreach. Despite having hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated for their support and public outreach through Washington's State Budget, a CACC member stated at the House Transportation Work Session on Jan 18 that they couldn't send a mailer that was ready to go to the residents within 5 miles of the greenfield sites due to "lack of budget."
Q) Which community groups were invited by the CACC to help them distribute information about the proposed airport?
A) The CACC has not provided info beyond the general Contact Lists in the Online Open House Report 2001 and Online Open House Report 2022. Note that these lists omit all cities in/around the greenfield sites, as well as key groups like the Nisqually Tribe.
Q) Which news sources were used to notify residents?
A) The Online Open House 2022 report claims “WSDOT distributed a press release in English and Spanish to statewide media (press release is available in Appendix H). Articles about the open house ran in: City of Enumclaw alerts, Enumclaw Courier-Herald, Goskagit.com, Kitsap Economic Development Authority, My Everett News, Olympia Indivisible, San Juan Islander, SeaTac blog, Shoreline Area News, Skagit Land Trust, The Chronicle (Lewis County).” Interesting to note that the report also states this open house had only 209 participants from Thurston County (which in 2021 had an estimated population of 297,977).
Q) How can we improve outreach to under-represented members of our community?
A) The CACC lists “BIPOC, people with low incomes, or people who use languages other than English” as a factor in their CACC and WASP Roles and Process document. We need additional outreach to make sure these voices, as well as those of our elderly and veterans, are heard. Please let us know if you can volunteer to help with this outreach.
Q) Since not everyone has internet access or a Facebook account (where much of the discussion is occurring) what else is being done to get this information out to residents?
A) We are using a multi-pronged approach including printed flyers distribution, word of mouth, sign waving, yard signs, bulletin boards, banners, media and meetings. Much of this depends on volunteers.
Q) Has a freedom of information / public records request been made to WSDOT and the CACC?
A) Yes, and we are waiting for that to be processed.
Q) Do we know the official position of JBLM?
A) JBLM stated via direct message and through news reports that the CACC's airport siting proposals would negatively impact operations. Comments about sharing space with JBLM or moving JBLM to Eastern Washington made by the CACC in several presentations are not part of any official plan that has been announced.
Q) Why doesn’t the CACC consider high speed rail instead?
A) The CACC is specifically tasked to study air travel. There are concurrent high-speed rail studies in progress. See: https://senatedemocrats.wa.gov/liias/2022/03/10/legislature-approves-historic-move-ahead-washington-transportation-package and https://wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/search-studies/ultra-high-speed-rail-study
Q) Will this raise our taxes?
A) That is unknown, but someone will bear the financial burden of a new airport and the cost will be significant. “Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) cost estimates” is one of the items in the remaining analysis, which is anticipated around Feb. 2023. Source: https://wsdot.wa.gov/travel/aviation/commercial-aviation-coordinating-commission
Q) What about the power lines in this area? What about the fog? What about the gophers? What about the [insert reason that prevented residents from building modifying property]?
A) The CACC has not communicated any plan for these, but would need to account for this mitigation in their analysis. Planes can take off and land in extreme weather. If it’s decided that this is for 'the greater good' then anything in the way will be mitigated.
Q) How do you sign the petition that opposes the airport?
A) Visit change.org/p/no-large-commercial-airport-in-thurston-county and enter your name, email, address, then click the “Sign this petition” button.
Q) What is the process of getting volunteers involved?
A) We need your talents and experience, and any amount of time you can share is appreciated. Please contact us at stoptheairport.com/volunteer
Q) How do we find out about informational sign waving events?
A) These are posted in advance in the Events tab of our Facebook Group.
Q) Where can I buy a yard sign?
Q) Where can I get flyers?
A) Flyers are available for printing from stoptheairport.com/print-material and on our Facebook page. Note that Thurston County residents get a $44/mo credit for printing at the Library if you do not have the ability to print these at home.
Q) How do we keep Olympia Regional airport from expanding as well?
A) The Olympia Regional Airport is owned and managed by the Olympia Port Commission. Changes there are not related to the CACC. An online petition is available, which covers concerns about changes, but this is separate from the Stop the Airport group.
Q) Where can I get more info?
A) Additional sources of information: