The fourth runway

I know a thing or two about airplanes.

I rented a room at the Sunrise Motel, in Moses Lake, at the south end of the second longest runway in North America. Airlines would train crews and test new jets from Boeing. For six months, while I taught English as an intern at Big Bend Community College, Japan Airlines' 747s practiced touch and goes from mid-morning through 9 p.m., with a break for class and lunch.

In eight hours of flight time, jets came and went every 15 minutes, 200 feet overhead. That made 32 passes over the Sunrise Motel, and 32 approaches on the runway's far end.

The South End may soon have more than its fair share of noise pollution.

A Southwest Airlines move to King County International Airport (KCIA, also called Boeing Field) would test the patience of neighbors in the Greater Duwamish district as much as student pilots tested mine in Moses Lake. I live at the headwaters of the Duwamish River. My neighborhood will be affected by 40 arrivals and 40 departures a day.

Nobody sane would want to live at the end of a busy runway. If Boeing Field becomes the next docking station to Emerald City, the airline, city, and county must provide meaningful mitigation to the neighborhoods.

Will this happen?

According to Ron Sims, yes. In a message dated June 14 sent to Larry Phillips, the chair of the King County Council, County Executive Sims says, "While this is an exciting opportunity, I have concerns about the impact of any proposal and KCIA flight pattern impacts on the West Seattle, Georgetown, Beacon Hill, and Magnolia neighborhoods and the city of Tukwila.

"I want to assure the county council and the public that all noise and traffic impacts of any proposal must be understood and appropriately addressed in a full and thorough public process before any agreement can move forward."

There is a comparable project, Sound Transit's Light Rail. Rainier Valley communities share in a $50 million community development fund. Beacon Hill did not share in that "thorough public process." The time to begin a truly inclusive process is now.

Negotiations have taken place with public officials in private for almost two years. Usually, there's more than a couple of guys involved: included are a string of assistants, bureaucrats, and elected officials. County Executive Sims will ask for funding for due diligence that, it is hoped, will be more responsive to the public than that of light rail.

The communities deserve better than dog and pony shows, and a South End model exists for successful mitigation.

When Wright Runstad negotiated the development with the city, the company also negotiated with the neighbors, and not just the neighbors who agreed with them. A democratic process brought public safety, traffic, and environmental improvements. This commitment has lasted seven years.

Of course, there is already political posturing. Dwight Pelz is running for the City Council, and talking to the neighbors. Other County Council members are non-committal. Larry Gossett has been a wise partisan for his district. Dow Constantine is an unknown player to new constituents. The South End needs to know where they stand.

Would I relish living in the Sunrise Motel again?

No. Neither would you.

Should Southwest's 737s come and go around the clock, should King County International Airport become the "Fourth Runway" to SeaTac's other three, the neighbors will find a way to mitigate the situation in an open, honest, and democratic way.

Should they decide the sound of jets will tear apart their peace of mind, they will stop it. There have been hard won South End victories, against crime, pollution, and poverty.

I'm not anti-jet either. I worked for Boeing, on 737s, 747s, 757s, 767s, 777s, and aircraft I can't talk about. I touched the space station one afternoon, proposed a next generation of supersonic transport, understand the ways of defense and a path to the moon.

It's a stretch to make Boeing Field the Fourth Runway. As a politician, Ron Sims has always been a happy campaigner, but in this campaign he has more to do than shake hands.

Ron Sims, Southwest Airlines, watch out. We want more than politics as usual.

Craig Thompson may be reached at

[[In-content Ad]]