Process to tackle Washington’s future aviation needs faces skepticism from inside and out

Protestors hold a sign that reads "No Mega Airport Here," at the state capitol on January 25. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)



Lawmakers are considering restarting the process to find a location to build a new airport following months of community backlash to current recommendations. One member of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC)  formed in 2019 to address aviation capacity shortages — agrees more review is needed.

Bryce Yadon represents Futurewise, an environmental land use nonprofit that advocates for policies to address population growth in compliance with the Growth Management Act. Their goal is to protect farms, forests and waterways, and ensure urban areas are accessible to all.

Yadon is one of 15 voting members that sits on the CACC, although three seats are currently vacant. He said the commission needs to go through another round of review, to analyze specific environmental and equity impacts. 

“I think a number of us, myself included, felt that perhaps the task force wasn’t looking at a broad enough array of impacts and alternatives, and trying to match up what a new airport would do in relation to other goals the state has,” Yadon said.

The CACC identified three sites in October — two in Pierce County and one in Thurston County — where the state could build a new, two-runway airport to address projected capacity shortages. The recommendations received swift backlash, and residents rallied last week in Olympia, some calling for a stop to the whole discussion. 

“I don’t think any of the sites probably really fundamentally meet the goals that the state is trying to achieve, or the intent of the Growth Management Act, or just environmental goals,” Yadon said.

Still, Yadon said the next step is more nuanced than scrapping the whole thing. Whether through the creation of a new task force, or expanding the CACC to include more community members, he said the CACC hasn’t yet analyzed environmental and equity impacts, or infrastructure needs for these sites, and that the commission needs to complete that analysis.

“We didn’t have complete information to make a sound, informed decision on what the outcome should be,” Yadon said.

Yadon said the CACC also didn’t consider transportation alternatives, like banning short-distance flights.

He’s also concerned about how an airport would necessitate other capital facilities and infrastructure, and how that development could contradict state law.

“What are other ramifications related to state law under the Growth Management Act?” Yadon asked. “Because things like this could spur additional development outside of urban growth areas where, right now, state law prohibits or directs growth in other areas.”

And the noes to the three proposed sites just keep coming. In a statement to NWPB, Gary Dangerfield, external communications chief for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, wrote that JBLM has determined that any of the three sites would hamper their ability to respond and deploy forces. 

 “All three proposed sites aren’t viable because they would disrupt fixed-wing and helicopter training and operational requirements,” Dangerfield wrote.

Rep. Jake Fey of the 27th District is working on legislation that would restart the entire process the CACC began in 2019 and said a new task force would also consider impacts to military operations.