Photo: Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman asks during a 6/8/21 Port study session why the Port cannot put an employee parking lot on land already cleared for parking. She’s told that the question is off limits due to current environmental review under NEPA.
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.
Parking Lot L06 - and all 30+ near-term proposals in the Port of Seattle’s Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP), including construction of a second terminal, a centralized maintenance campus, cargo handling facilities, new road lanes, expanded fueling facilities & more, have been under environmental review for years. First, they were under SEPA review (State Environmental Policy Act). Now they are under NEPA review (National Environmental Policy Act).
Elected officials must be free to discuss and explore reasonable alternatives to these extraordinarily consequential projects while they are under environmental review.
Prohibiting that exploration limits the choice of reasonable alternatives, causing related information, funding opportunities, public input, and opportunities for partnership that may arise to remain unexamined and be lost.
It's also unlawful under both state and federal law to limit choices of reasonable alternatives to projects like Lot L06 while they are under environmental review. (40 CF§ 1506.1 - Limitations on actions during NEPA process)
But Port staff have in full public view prohibited Port Commissioners from discussing reasonable alternatives to L06. They’ve done this in a sweeping way indicating that this is Port policy for any project under environmental review. Heeding that direction from Port staff, Commissioners have communicated to the public they are not free to discuss or consider alternatives to Lot L06 while it is under environmental review.
The Port has even refused to discuss its own reasonable alternative - that of a multi-level parking garage on land where there is already employee parking. That alternative, mentioned in the No to Airport Parking in North SeaTac Park petition as preferable to cutting down 11 acres of forest, is put forth in this 2017 SAMP technical memorandum on alternatives (p 4-49).
The public interest requires that exploration of alternatives to Lot L06 take place in as timely a fashion as possible to protect the viability of whatever options may exist. The Port's limitation on the choice of reasonable alternatives to Lot L06 is consequential and harmful.
It is likely that, over the last 2 years, Port Commissioners have operated under this apparently prohibition not only in relation to Lot L06 - but for 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 - and for miles around - the airport.
In the recording of a June 8th Study Session attended by Port staff and Commissioners, Commissioner Stephanie Bowman asked Port staff (shortly after the one-hour time mark): "Can you explain why we wouldn’t just – if we were to expand employee parking – why we wouldn’t expand it on the site that we already have?" She was met with sustained refusal from Port staff to discuss the topic - and a lecture from Commissioner Calkins on undue influence.
After watching this recorded session, I made multiple requests for the written basis of the Port's prohibition against discussion and action on Lot L06 alternatives. On June 11, I requested it in an email sent to all Commissioners. On that day I also sent a separate emailed request to the responsible FAA NEPA official. On June 22, receiving no response from Commissioners, I brought it up in testimony at a Port meeting. On that day I also asked for it in a public disclosure request to the Port. I asked for this information in phone conversations with Commissioners Bowman and Steinbrueck.
In our July 17 phone conversation, Commissioner Steinbrueck shared that he also questioned Port staff's prohibition against discussing alternatives to Lot L06 and that he was waiting for a response to his request to staff for the legal basis for it.
But still, during a July 22nd online forum, when Commissioners Calkins, Bowman, and Steinbrueck were asked, separately, if they supported or opposed the lot, only Commissioner Steinbrueck felt able to give his opinion (that he opposed it) - while Commissioners Calkins and Bowman explained that they were not permitted to discuss the matter.
These unnecessary limits - presented by Port staff as legally necessary - and placed by Port staff on Commissioners, raise questions about whether Port Commissioners have been misled by Port staff such that they have not been able to properly represent the interests of their constituents.
The L06 proposal to remove 11 acres of mature forest from a community highly impacted by environmental health disparities during a climate emergency - demonstrates profoundly poor decision-making. The other near term proposals in the Port’s SAMP are likely to be similarly flawed. If, over two years, no exploration or choice of reasonable alternatives to any of these projects has been allowed because of the unsanctioned Port staff limits placed on Commissioners during environmental review, all of these projects need thorough re-examination in a process additional to whatever environmental reviews are still outstanding.
In a June 11, 2021 email, Noemie Maxwell queried the FAA on any legal prohibition the Port might face in regards to discussing matters under environmental review.
Excerpt: “I've been attempting to dialogue with Port of Seattle Commissioners - elected officials who represent me - about a proposal in the Port's Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) Near Term projects. There is currently a draft NEPA EA of these projects being prepared. I have received a message that this is impossible for the Port to do - that it is legally prohibited from withdrawing this proposal. - or issuing any public statement about it - or even coming up with alternative employee parking lot proposals because of the NEPA process that is currently underway. I've further come to understand that Commissioners feel they are prohibited from discussing the matter - even with Port staff. I'm writing to ask if FAA staff are aware of any legal basis on the federal level; for these prohibitions. If so, I would appreciate getting exact citations so that I can understand better how to dialogue on my elected representatives on this important public matter.”
Response: In an August 25, 2021 email to Noemie Maxwell from Katherine Adrus of the FAA wrote: “Turning to your question, our office is not aware of any federal legal statute or regulation that prohibits public statements or changes to the proposal during the NEPA process in general.”