Proposed Expansion of SeaTac International Airport and the Public’s Right to Know

The Port of Seattle’s Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) and Real Estate Strategic Plan (RESP)*  propose an extensive suite of airport expansion projects, including an estimated 107+ acres of development on now mostly-forested land in SeaTac. These proposals would significantly reduce tree canopy in a community where Public Health Seattle King County has recommended expanding tree canopy and green space in order to reduce human exposure to aviation pollution linked to shortened lifespans, premature and underweight births, and learning problems in children. Collectively, the projects proposed would convert extensive tree canopy to additional airport structures that would, in themselves, substantially increase this deadly pollution.

Residents in SeaTac, the city where the proposals are sited, already experience severe levels of environmental health disparities. The tree canopy in this city is already among the most sparse in the county.

This page shows that Port staff have interfered with the public right to know and the ability of elected Commissioners to properly represent the public interest in this highly consequential matter:

  1. Port staff have informed Port Commissioners that SAMP projects (which will also include those in the RESP*) are off limits for them to discuss or weigh in on because they are under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review;

  2. Relying on this information, Port Commissioners have refused to answer questions from the public about these proposals;

  3. This information provided by Port staff to Commissioners was incorrect and at variance with 40 CF§ 1506.1 - Limitations on actions during NEPA process, which prohibits limiting the exploration of reasonable alternatives to proposals under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review.

It is believed by some** that Port staff continue to discourage Commissioners from fully taking part in helping to shape and share public information on these immensely consequential proposals.

  • *The Port’s 2020 Real Estate Strategic Plan indicates on page 14 that its proposals  sited in North SeaTac have been moved under the purview of the SAMP.

  • **Information from a trusted source shared on condition of confidentiality with author, Noemie Maxwell.

I. Port Staff informed Port Commissioners that discussion of SAMP projects were off limits for Commissioners to discuss or weigh in on.

In this recording of a June 8, 2021 Port of Seattle Study Session (starting at the 1:00:04 mark), Commissioner Stephanie Bowman asks a question about a reasonable alternative to building an 11-acre parking lot inside North SeaTac Park. She’s repeatedly told that her question is off limits due to the fact that this project is part of the Port’s Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) which was - and still is - under NEPA review.

Commissioner Calkins (starting at the 1:07:40 mark) shares that staff member Arlyn Purcell, Port Director of Aviation Environment & Sustainability, had “educated” him on the importance of keeping discussion of projects related to the SAMP “at arm’s length from any of these conversations” in order to avoid interruption or undue influence, and that it was “absolutely essential that the Commission refrain from weighing in during this process.”

Photo above is a still from the linked to videorecording. Top row: Peter Lindsay, Development Manager; Commissioner Stephanie Bowman; unknown. Second row: Commission President Fred Felleman; Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck; Arlyn Purcell, Director, Aviation Environment & Sustainability; Stephen P. Metruck, Executive Director.

II. Port Commissioners, relying on information from Port staff, refused to answer questions from the public about a SAMP proposal in their community

A. Commissioners stated that it was illegal for them to respond to questions about a SAMP project

In a 7/22/21 candidates forum, Port Commissioners respond to the moderator’s question about Port plans to build inside North SeaTac Park:

Commissioner Calkins’ response can be heard at the 36:46 mark: “I’m sorry but I’m legally prevented from answering that question.”

Commissioner Bowman’s response can be heard at the 1:09:59 mark: “I’m not sure if the moderator was aware, but we’re legally not allowed to answer that question as sitting Port Commissioners.”

(Source of clips: B-Town Blog:

B.  A community member met silence in response to her repeated requests for information about a SAMP project

After weeks of requests for information from the author to Port Commissioners on the subject of the proposed parking lot in North SeaTac Park met with silence, the author requested in the following ways for a written explanation for this refusal to respond:

  • On June 11, 2021, in an email to all Commissioners

  • On June 11, 2021, in a separate email to Katherine Andrus, listed on the FAA website as the responsible NEPA official for the SAMP.

  • On June 22, 2021, in testimony at a Port meeting.

  • On June 22, 2021,  in a public disclosure request to the Port.

  • From June through July, 2021, in separate phone conversations with Commissioners Bowman and Steinbrueck.  In a July 17 phone conversation, Commissioner Steinbrueck shared that he had also asked Port staff to provide a written explanation of the reason he was prohibited from discussing SAMP proposals publicly and that he was waiting for a response to that request.

  • On July 22, 2021 in the chatbox of a Port of Seattle Commissioner candidates forum held by Quiet Skies Puget Sound. Finally, through that means, Barb Wilson, Port Chief of Staff, provided a response, as described in the next section, below.

III.  Port staff were wrong that Commissioners are legally prohibited from weighing in on or discussing projects under NEPA review.

During the July 22, 2021 candidate forum mentioned above, when hearing Commissioner Calkins state that he was legally prohibited from responding to the moderator’s question about the SAMP proposal to build a parking lot in North SeaTac Park,  the author typed in the chatbox that she had been asking for weeks that the Port and FAA provide a written explanation of the legal basis for this prohibition.

Barb Wilson, then Chief of Staff of the Port, wrote back in the chatbox that the basis of this prohibition was 40 CF§ 1506.1 - Limitations on actions during NEPA process.

This law does not prohibit Commissioners from discussing or acting on SAMP projects under NEPA review. In fact, it does the opposite, prohibiting limitations on the exploration of reasonable alternatives to SAMP projects. As demonstrated by the June 8th Port Study session recording linked to above, Port staff limited precisely this, exploration of reasonable alternatives, when sitting Commissioner Bowman, representing her constituents, posed a question on a reasonable alternative and was told it was off limits.

On August 25, 2021, I received an email (image above) from Katherine Andrus of the FAA in response to my email to her from June 11, 2021. Her email states that her office was “not aware of any federal legal statue or regulation that prohibits public statements or changes to the proposal during the NEPA process in general.


Port staff have demonstrably given incorrect information to Commissioners that restricted both their ability to properly represent their constituents and the public’s ability to participate in a process that uses public funds and land and that will substantially impact their lives.

It is likely that, since the inception of SAMP and at least until July 2021, Port Commissioners, relying on information from Port staff, operated under a mistaken belief that they were prohibited from speaking about or acting on the entire, massive suite of SAMP projects that will shape our region for decades to come and significantly impact the health of residents in the highly impacted communities surrounding the airport.

It is important to determine the extent to which Port staff have, over the years, discouraged elected Commissioners from fully taking part in helping to shape and share public information on these immensely consequential proposals - and the extent to which they continue to do so.  To the extent that they have, these proposals should be withdrawn so that the process can be conducted in a manner comporting with federal legal requirements and the public’s right to know.

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