Renton Airport discussion to continue

I was appointed several months ago by the Mayor and City Council to be a representative of Mercer Island on the Renton Airport Advisory Committee (RAAC). My responsibilities include: being a voting member of the RAAC; working with the City of Mercer Island staff in the development of strategies to minimize the impact on Mercer Island residents of any City of Renton decisions on the Renton Airport Development Plan; keeping the Mayor, City Council and staff updated on the activities of the RAAC and City of Renton with regard to this issue; and providing a communication link to the residents of Mercer Island.

As part of the last responsibility, a public meeting was held on January 29 at the Community Center to provide information to MI residents of the various Development Plans that have been proposed. At that meeting, our residents had an opportunity to ask the Renton Mayor and Renton’s airport consultants questions about these Development Plans and to raise specific issues and concerns. It was impressive to see about 300 MI residents attend this meeting. It was not only impressive in terms of the size of the crowd, but in terms of the caliber of questions and comments. Over twenty Mercer Island citizens addressed Renton’s panel of experts. The questions were, for the most part, respectful, well informed and well thought out. After a presentation about the Renton Airport planning process, Mercer Island citizens asked questions about state and federal environmental review, current and predicted air traffic flow, current and potential noise impacts, FAA regulations, and safety hazards. Many of the questions were answered; however it became clear that both Renton Staff and their consultants would need to supply more data in order to fully address the questions posed by Mercer Islanders.

Renton officials agreed to address questions unanswered at the January 29 meeting, and will do so in the next few weeks. They have also concurred that a noise impact study is a critical component of this planning process. The City of Mercer Island staff is working with their Renton counterparts to see that a fair and accurate noise impact study is conducted in the near future. Also, Renton officials have decided to slow down their process of selecting and approving development plans for the Renton Airport. If you have heard through other means that Renton is on a fast track to approve plans and get started on airport development in the immediate term, that information is not accurate. The Renton City Council has not been presented with a proposed airport layout alternative for approval. We have been advised that won't happen until later in 2007, to allow for more data collection and public input.

Since the Renton Airport development plans came to light, our City Council and staff have been in ongoing discussions with Renton elected officials and staff. In addition to my appointment as Liaison, the City Council has engaged a nationally-recognized and respected expert on airports and the FAA. It is important for our residents to know that Renton has been receptive to the concerns of Mercer Island. Based on my experience as MI Mayor and Councilmember, I believe that at this time, working cooperatively with the City of Renton and its staff is the best way to minimize any incremental increase in noise over Mercer Island and maximize the safety of Mercer Island citizens. I am going to recommend to our City Council that they continue to work with our neighbors to the south in a way that is mutually cooperative.

If you were not able to make it to the January 29 meeting, the meeting was recorded and arrangements are being made to have the video of the meeting broadcast on Mercer Island's local cable station, Channel 21. Please watch for details on the City's web site (www.mercergov.org) as well as in the Mercer Island Reporter. DVD copies are available for purchase for $5 at City Hall. If you would like to get more involved in this issue or have questions, please contact me at eznewman@yahoo.com.

There is also a local blog on Google: http://groups.google.com/group/MI-renton-airport.

Islander Elliot Newman is a former mayor of Mercer Island.

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