Airport expansion bill passes state Senate

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OLYMPIA — Creation or expansion of an airport in Washington to relieve the stress of a growing demand at Sea-Tac would be the focus of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission created by legislation passed in the Senate Monday.

Sea-Tac is the ninth-busiest airport in the United States and 19th in air cargo volume in North America with traffic forecast to continue growing, according to a legislative staff report. In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded the Puget Sound Regional Council to look at aviation in the area and help with future planning. The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission would look at potential facility sites and create a short list of six sites by January 2020.

13th District Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, spoke in support of the bill, noting that Moses Lake has an underutilized airport that could be a good fit.

“We have the longest landing strip this side of the Mississippi,” said Warnick, in reference to Grant County International Airport.

The bill passed the Senate in a bipartisan 45-1 vote, with Senator Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, voting in opposition.

The broad language in the bill would allow for Paine Field Airport in Snohomish County to be considered for expansion, which is something Liias opposes. Paine Field is already undergoing expansions to passenger travel and Liias said he would not support any additional expansions at the moment. Liias said he does support the idea of expansions to meet Washington’s needs at airfields, like the one in Moses Lake, that could handle the increased traffic.

The House’s companion bill, HB 1683, received bipartisan support in committee hearings. Representative Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is the prime sponsor and has Sea-Tac International Airport in her district. Co-sponsor — and the only professional pilot in the Legislature — 13th District Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, has put out a package of bills aimed at improving aviation safety, funding and innovation.

In the House Transportation Committee Hearing, Steve Edmiston, a member of the state Department of Commerce Aviation Impact Study Committee, testified in support of the bill.

“I call this a ‘what’s not to like’ bill because of the statewide economic impacts that this bill can create,” said Edmiston. Economic impacts are “no longer reserved for an isolated piece of geography,” he said. “That has been our model at Sea-Tac since 1947.”

The commission would be composed of a member of the Department of Commerce, a member from the Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, members from the private sector, members from metropolitan planning organization and members from various ports, among others. There would be 13 voting positions and two non-voting. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

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