Lawyer hired to help with airport

City hired firm to oppose SeaTac flight patterns in 2000

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

City officials have hired a law firm specializing in airport litigation for the second time since the year 2000 to help them think of legal options to stop air traffic above the Island from increasing.

Concerned about the Renton Airport expansion plans to attract more jets, City Council members agreed to hire an attorney to recommend the best course of action. Peter Kirsch, a partner in the firm Kaplan, Kirsch and Rockwell from Denver, Colo., was scheduled to appear before the council in an executive session held after its regular meeting adjourned Tuesday night.

The council has recently adopted a resolution that states it will work to minimize the amount of flights over the Island and ensure the safety of Islanders. Kirsch was hired to tell city leaders if and how this can be achieved in court, should the situation escalate.

Prior to the meeting with Kirsch, councilmembers and city staff already conceded that the city will do better working with Renton on its expansion proposal instead of opposing the plan entirely with lawsuits.

According to Councilmember Dan Grausz, a municipal airport in Renton is more desirable than a private airport because private operators would be less likely to acknowledge the Island’s concerns or ask the city to participate in future planning.

“The penalty for refusing such businesses is losing the right to operate the airport,” Grausz said. “If that should happen, we would potentially find ourselves dealing with a private operator with no inclination to listen to us.”

Mercer Island has been successful in the past in preventing increased air traffic over the Island. In the summer of 2000, Islanders were successful getting the Port Commission for the Port of Seattle to listen to their concerns about adding a flight path over the center of the Island.

Working with residents from some south Seattle neighborhoods and other Eastside cities, Islanders prevented the Port Commission from asking the Federal Aviation Administration to change the flight path of half of SeaTac’s northbound departures.

The idea to move half of SeaTac’s northbound departures came up in the spring of 2000 when members of a citizens advisory committee for the Port of Seattle recommended the action based on a noise abatement study. That study concluded some cities and Seattle neighborhoods unfairly absorbed all the northbound noise pollution from SeaTac. The citizen committee suggested it would be fair to spread the noise pollution.

The committee’s proposal would have split the departing flights between the existing path that went over the lake between Seattle and Medina with a new one that would have crossed the lake sooner, over the center of Mercer Island. The city hired the same law firm, then named Kaplan & Kirsch, at that time.

While the city benefited from the threat of legal action in 2000, a legal battle with Renton would not be the best option for the city to prevent more jets flying down the Island. That’s because the situation with Renton Airport is different and the city’s options are limited in comparison to the SeaTac situation, according to Grausz.

In 2000, the FAA would have created a new flight over the Island. This time, though, Renton and Mercer Island plan to ask the FAA to remove a flight path from over the Island.

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