Rematch over plane noise?

By Ruth Longoria

It's been about five years since the controversy ended over then-planned northeast-turning flight paths out of Sea-Tac International Airport and the anticipated impact of airplane noise on the Island.

Back then, Mercer Island's watchdog group, the Aircraft Noise Abatement Committee, alerted Islanders of the negative effects of that flight path change and, ultimately, the discussions ended with no change of the flight paths.

Mercer Island may not be so lucky this next time.

With Southwest Airlines hoping to move its operations to King County International Airport, commonly known as Boeing Field, it could be only a few years before the brightly-colored blue, orange, red and yellow planes begin to roar over Island homes. Southwest hopes to fly 60 flights a day out of Boeing Field beginning in 2009. The airline currently flies 38 flights a day out of Sea-Tac.

Despite the possibilities, there doesn't seem to be a lot of angst on the Island about Southwest's proposal to build a $130 million, eight-gate terminal and seven-level parking garage at Boeing Field. Perhaps that's because many Islanders share the opinion of City Manager Rich Conrad, who was active in the fight against flight noise five years ago.

``My first take when I heard about Southwest's plans was `Oh no, here we go again.' Then, I stepped back and cooled down on my reaction,'' Conrad said. ``It's still a pretty big uphill climb for Southwest. They aren't there yet. They have to get approval from the county, approval from the county council, the FAA, and the Port of Seattle. And, the Port will try to prevent the move and try to talk them into reconsidering.''

With the flight patterns being studied, including a possible push from some county councilmembers to force Southwest to fly all Boeing Field's incoming and outgoing flights west over Elliott Bay, Conrad said the amount of impact on Islanders would be minimal compared to that of some other areas.

``What would affect us is the east-turning flights and I would imagine most of the Southwest flights would be west-turning anyway,'' Conrad said.

``I can't believe it would be radically different from what we already get from Sea-Tac. And, it's all a ways down the road. Southwest will have to deal with a lot of ire of all those communities closest to Boeing Field, let alone what they would face from Medina and Mercer Island,'' he said. ``I've learned you've got to wait and look at all the details before allowing yourself to go with your knee-jerk reaction.''

Islander Kathie Hood shares Conrad's ``Let's wait and see'' attitude.

Hood was concerned about possible additions of air traffic five years ago because she already had enough to deal with, she said, as some flights out of Renton Municipal Airport regularly shook her home enough to crack china and knock down wall hangings.

Like Conrad, Hood is confident that time and study of the details involved will provide a satisfactory result for Islanders.

``I'm gathering my questions and want to know what the flight patterns will be, what altitude they will have to fly at, and what the FAA hearing process will be,'' Hood said. ``But, I'm waiting to see before I start to whine or gripe.''

Although, city staff and residents don't seem overly concerned just yet, King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, who represents Mercer Island and the rest of Council District 6, is among the county representatives who have expressed concerns about the potential for additional flight noise.

``Southwest Airlines' proposal to move their operations to Boeing Field is a complex issue and in the early stages of development,'' Dunn wrote in a prepared statement released by his office Friday.

``The region needs to understand what the additional 60 daily flights will do to local flight patterns, overhead noise, and traffic congestion. A number of these flight paths may cross over Mercer Island and the Eastside -- I want to know how many. We need to ask the tough questions and get more answers before we make this critical decision.''

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