Feb 2, 2024 - Why are Commissioners silent while Port staff announce new legislative policy?

State law requires that Port Commissioners (not staff), issue legislative policy. But Commissioners have remained silent on recent legislation that would help residents living near the airport - while Port staff have not only publicly opposed it but have written alternative legislation.  Please consider turning this article into action by using all or part of it and sending it to Commissioners:

Dear Commission President Cho, Vice President Hasegawa, and Commissioners Calkins, Felleman, and Mohamed,,,,,

Groundbreaking new legislation, "Mitigating Harm and Improving Equity in Large Port Districts," HB 2103  and SB 5955, would require the Port to use a small portion of taxes it collects to remediate widespread health and property damage caused by SeaTac Airport noise and pollution.

Originally, the new law even addressed outdoor air quality - with “programs to provide urban forests or green space” in impacted areas, although that provision has, unfortunately, been stripped out.

Elected Port of Seattle Commissioners have not publicly commented on this proposed law. But Port staff has. John Flanagan, Port Senior State Government Relations Manager, opposed it at both House and Senate hearings. He noted that the agency has already submitted alternative legislation.

Do Commissioners oppose this new law? Did they approve this alternative legislation? State law and Port policy suggest that the answer to these two questions must be “yes”:

The Revised Code of Washington requires that elected Commissioners (not their staff) run the ports. The Port of Seattle’s bylaws agree. When Commissioners delegate tasks to staff, they must follow guidelines in a document entitled: “Port of Seattle Commission Delegation of Responsibility and Authority to the Executive Director.” This policy holds Commissioners responsible to: “Establish the Port’s positions regarding public policy, legislation, and regulation.”

The Port is a lonely voice in this opposition. Only the Washington Public Ports Association (lobbyists), and one individual who previously lived nearby agreed. Speaking in support were Senator Karen Keiser and Representative Tina Orwall, the bill’s prime sponsors, SeaTac Councilmember Senayet Negusse, SeaTac’s Government Relations Manager Kyle Moore, Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling, Burien Councilmember Sarah Moore, Des Moines Mayor Traci Buxton, Des Moines Councilmember JC Harris (representing SeaTac Noise) and nearly 20 other community members.

Senator Keiser, in explaining why she introduced the legislation (at time mark of 4:43 in this video), invoked a long history of Port obfuscation:

 “My community and my seatmates and I have been meeting with the Port of Seattle for years... It just goes on and on and on. We get assurances. We get words. We get nice discussions. We don’t get what we need, which is remediation.”

  1. Did Port Commissioners direct staff to oppose HB 2021 and SB 5955?

  2. Did Commissioners oversee and approve the Port’s proposed new legislation?

  3. How will Commissioners take control of Port staff and move this agency past decades of “nice discussions” to meaningfully protect residents’ health and trees and parkland near the airport?


February 6, 2024 - Provision that would have invested in providing forest and green space near the airport stripped out of legislation opposed by the Port

Read more in our February 6 newsletter.


Jan 4, and 5, 2024 - Port Land Stewardship Plan: Nice words but supports massive tree loss

A recent Port Land Stewardship Plan pronounces laudable principles of environmental justice - while supporting existing Port proposals that would harm residents by removing over 100 acres of trees near the airport.

The Defenders responded with a letter calling for meaningful protection of our community’s trees. To read it, click HERE. Commissioners have ignored the letter. Please consider asking them to respond.

Sandy Hunt, a member of the Defenders’ steering team, sent an additional response to the Plan. It provides more detailed input line by line and page by page. Read that response HERE.  

Defenders of Highline Forest response to Port of Seattle on Land Stewardship Plan,,,,,,

January 4, 2024


Re: Port of Seattle Land Stewardship Plan


Dear Port of Seattle Aviation Environmental Information officials, Executive Director Metruck, Commission President Cho, Vice President Mohamed, and Commissioners Calkins, Felleman, and Hasegawa,

We are writing to provide our comments on the Port’s Draft Final Land Stewardship Plan (Plan). (1)


This plan must be considered in the context of your agency’s past replacement of large areas of forest near the airport with polluting structures and activities, Port proposals in the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (2) and Real Estate Strategic Plan (RESP), (3a-b) to do more of the same, and the fact that residents harmed by these actions live in “overburdened communities highly impacted by air pollution.” (4)


Port of Seattle actions have caused near-airport residents to live in communities with severe environmental health disparities; high levels of industrial heat, noise, pollution; (5a-c) and inequitably low levels of tree canopy. The City of SeaTac, where most of the Port’s forest removal has occurred, has among the sparsest tree canopy in the county, ranking 40th out of 45 cities, according to King County’s 30-Year Forest Plan. (6)

Proposals and recommendations in the SAMP and RESP would significantly intensify this unhealthy and unjust imbalance, removing another estimated 110 acres (equivalent to the area of approximately 100 football fields) of air-purifying and cooling trees from near-airport neighborhoods. (7)  Health-protecting forest would be replaced with roads, parking lots, cargo warehouses, an aviation waste facility, a maintenance campus, and other structures that would draw thousands of additional trucks and plane trips, bringing even more noise, heat, industrial vibrations, and toxic gasses and dust.


Research establishes that urban tree canopy protects human health (8a-b) and that high levels of heat, noise, and pollution, harm human health. (9a-e)  A 2022 study by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, for example, found that pollution is now responsible for 1 in 6 deaths worldwide and that deaths from modern pollution risk factors have risen by over 66% since 2000. This statistic may seem surprisingly high to some readers. The footnotes of this letter contain information on its scientific soundness and relevance to the urgent need to protect forest and halt the development of further polluting structures and sources in communities near the airport. (9a)


Studies have also drawn links between increased levels of negative health impacts and mortality with noise and pollution specifically found to be originating from SeaTac Airport (10a-c)


Port officials are aware of the harm that airport pollution and urban heat worsened by climate change is causing to residents. They have the information to understand that removing trees and adding more polluting sources in residential neighborhoods will harm residents even more:

  • Public Health Seattle King County has found that people live shorter, sicker lives near the airport, babies are more often born prematurely and underweight, and children experience more learning problems.  It recommended expanding trees and green space near the airport to protect residents from aviation pollution. (11)

  • A current class action suit against the Port by residents who live within 5 miles of the airport seeks relief and damages from the Port for violating their rights by knowingly “showering” them with dangerously high levels of pollutants including particulate matter; gasses, and toxic heavy metals. (12)

  • The Port is a signatory to the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration Letter of Commitment in which it commited to reduce sprawl and restore forests in response to the potential that climate change has “for significant impacts to public and private property, resource based economies like agriculture and forestry, and to residents’ health and quality of life.” (13)


The Land Stewardship Plan outlines millions of dollars in investments to protect selected areas of natural habitat near the airport, pronounces laudable principles of environmental justice, and contains sound strategies for ecological and community benefit.  Yet it appears to support SAMP and RESP proposals that would intensify already grievous levels of harm caused to residents by airport operations. (14)


Any positive elements of the Plan pale in comparison to the overshadowing fact that it does not appear to offer protection to residents from the catastrophic environmental and health impacts of other Port proposals.


On the basis of information in the Plan, residents in Riverton Heights, for example, who are already surrounded by highways and the airport, can expect no withdrawal of existing Port proposals to destroy 26 acres of trees and install two huge cargo warehouses sited within feet of residences, and half a mile of a public school, daycare centers, and houses of worship.  Residents in Southwest SeaTac, who, in the recent past, have lost nearly 100 acres of nearby forest to Port development of a jail, parking lots, Amazon and other cargo warehouses, and the new FAA headquarters, still can expect to lose yet another 27 acres of forest and gain more industrial structures and associated traffic and other activities. (15)


The Plan explicitly does not consider ecological protection for North SeaTac Park, which is at risk from recommendations in the RESP to industrially develop 31.5 acres within it. This park is zoned for aviation commercial use, and an agreement between the Port and City allows removal of a 55-acre portion from park use “at any time.”  (16a-d)  Also deeply concerning, in an echo of the Port’s recent history of filling in dozens of wetlands for airport expansion (17), the Plan supports proposals already in the SAMP and RESP to destroy 13-17 acres of trees right on the edge of the park and verging on Tub Lake Bog, one of the last true sphagnum moss bogs in King County and an important aquifer recharge resource for the region. This will remove habitat and wildlife that provide protection for the forest surrounding the bog from wind, pollution, heat, and drought.


Near-airport residents have borne the brunt of transportation growth and development that serve the entire Puget Sound region.  They cannot – and should not - tolerate any further damaging impacts to their health, destruction of the local environment, and worsening of climate impacts.


We call on the Port to withdraw all proposals that would lead to the replacement of large areas of health-protecting trees near the airport.  Saving existing trees in situ is the most important step the Port can take to mitigate the deadly levels of heat, noise, and pollution impacting your neighbors.  The elements of the LSP that protect trees and restore and connect natural habitat should be fully supported and funded. The LSP, SAMP, RESP and related plans must be revised in ways that 1) immediately end the siting of commercial structures on any undeveloped or tree-covered land owned by the Port and 2) end the practice of acquiring such land for the purpose of commercial development within the communities surrounding SeaTac Airport.  



Derek Beauchemin, Rob Bent, Beth Brunton, Rick Harwood, Sandy Hunt, Stephen Lamphear, Noemie Maxwell Vassilakis, Barbara McMichael, Anne Miller, Andrea O’Ferrall, Annie Phillips, and Kate Richardson

On behalf of Defenders of Highline Forest

Formerly Defenders of North SeaTac Park


  1. Port of Seattle Land Stewardship Plan, November 2023 (

  2. Seattle Tacoma International Airport Sustainable Airport Master Plan Near Term Projects Environmental Review Process Scoping Information Documents prepared by Landrum & Brown Inc. for Port of Seattle, July 2018 (p. 11)

  3. (a.)  Real Estate Strategic Plan: Port Commission Study Session, July 26, 2016, p 16-22.  Real Estate Strategic Plan: Port Commission Study Session, July 26, 2016, p 16-22.  

    (b.)   Port of Seattle 2020 Real Estate Strategic Plan, August, 2021

  4. Overburdened Communities Highly Impacted by Air Pollution, for Ecology's new Environmental Justice initiative under the Climate Commitment Act, Department of Ecology Air Quality Program, published March 1, 2023 (updated December 2023), website accessed 1/2/2024 (

    RCW 70A.65.020 (1) directs the Department of Ecology to identify “overburdened communities highly impacted by air pollution”. These are defined as communities in Washington State that are in:

    “a geographic area where vulnerable populations face combined, multiple environmental harms and health impacts or risks due to exposure to environmental pollutants or contaminants through multiple pathways, which may result in significant disparate adverse health outcomes or effects.”

    Sixteen such communities had been identified by December, 2023, representing 1.2 million people, or about 15.5% of the state’s population. Two of these communities, South Seattle and South King County, with a combined population of over 400,000, contain the communities near SeaTac International Airport impacted by Port plans to remove forest and build additional industrial facilities.

  5. (a.)     Washington State Department of Health Environmental Health Disparities Map (

    (b.)     King County Heat Map, 2020,6019787.1095,-13561266.7829,6046616.5065,102100

  6. King County 30-Year Forest Plan, February, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, February 2021 (

  7. Defenders of Highline Forest website, “What Trees are at Risk?”, accessed on 12/28/23

  8. (a.)     Urban Trees and Human Health: A Scoping Review, Kathleen L. Wolf et al, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(12), 4371;

    (b.)     Variation in the Ability of Various Tree Species to Capture Particulate Matter in Industrial and Urban Areas, Maisnam Sushima Devi, et al, International Journal of Environment and Climate Change, 13 (10), 37-46, 12/8/2023  (

  9. (a.)     Pollution and health: a progress update, Richard Fuller, et al, Lancet Planet Health, 2022 Jun;6(6):e535-e547., Epub 2022 May 18.

    *Note: the figure of 1 in 6 deaths attributable to pollution may seem intuitively surprising. It would be an uncommon experience to be told that a loved one died of “pollution”. The figure may seem more understandable when considering that the method used to arrive at this estimate operates on the population or epidemiological level - not on the individual level that would be reflected on death certificates. From the article: “The analysis of disease and premature death due to pollution that we present uses GBD methodology that was developed in the 1990s by WHO, which was expanded by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).” GBD stands for Global Burden of Disease.


    As an example of how this might work, statistical analysis might find a higher percentage of deaths occurring from respiratory or cardiovascular in communities with high levels of pollution, like the one surrounding SeaTac Airport, than in communities with less polluted air. Defenders of Highline Forest received an email in December, 2023 reporting that the sender lives in the Riverton Heights community less than a mile from the airport, that the “strong smell of gas in the air” causes her to vomit in the morning, that she loses sleep at night because of the loud industrial noise near her home, and that she is suffering from lung cancer. On an individual level, the contribution of the airport pollution to her illness may not be provable. However, other studies have shown that lifespans are shorter and respiratory illnesses more common in communities near the airport, even controlling for other factors.


    (b.)     Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution and non-accidental mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis, H Boogaard, et al, Traffic: Environ Int, 2023 Jun:176:107916. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.107916. Epub 2023 Apr 7,

    (c.)     The effect modification of greenspace and impervious surface on the heat-mortality association: Differences by the dissimilarity index, Michelle Choi, Seulkee Heo, Michelle L. Bell, Science of The Total Environment Volume 908, 15 January 2024,

    (d.)     Health benefits of reducing aircraft pollution: evidence from changes in flight paths, Silvia Beghelli, Augustin De Coulon, Mary O’Mahony, J Popul Econ 36, 2581–2607 (2023).

    (e).     Urban extreme heat, climate change, and saving lives: Lessons from Washington state, Zachary Kearl, Jason Vogel, Urban Climate, Volume 47, 2023,

  10. (a.)     Summary of Health Research on Ultrafine Particles, Elmer Diaz, et al., Washington State Department of Health, DOH 334-454,  November 2019

    (b.)     Mobile ObserVations of Ultrafine Particles (MOV-UP) Study Final Report Austin E, Xiang J, Gould T, Shirai J, Yun S, Yost MG, Larson T, Seto E. University of Washington, December 2019.

    (c.)     Community Health and Airport Operations Related Noise and Air Pollution: Report to the Legislature by Seattle-King County Department of Health in Response to Washington State HOUSE BILL 1109, December 1, 2020

  11. Ibid, 10c.

  12. US District Court Western District of Washington, Seattle Division, Cindy Codoni et al v Port of Seattle, Alaska Air Group, and Delta Air Lines, Inc. Case No. 2:23-cv-00795 JNW Second Amended Class Action Complaint, August 2023

  13. King County-Cities Climate Collaboration Joint Letter of Commitment: Climate Change Actions in King County, final version, undated, accessed on 12/24/21.

  14. This understanding was reached by comparing the map in Figure 16 of the Port of Seattle Land Stewardship Plan (showing locations that the Port finds of “ecological use”) with industrial development proposed in the SAMP and RESP.  Existing proposals in the SAMP and RESP that would replace trees with industrial development in residential areas do not appear to be within LSP-identified areas identified as being of “ecological use.”

    In addition, areas of land that are shown as protected in Figure 16 of the LSP appear to largely coincide with those shown as protected from development because of restrictive covenants or proximity of waterways in an older Port document (Figure 2-1, “Lakes, Streams, Ponds, and Wetlands in the Airport Vicinity, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport,” page 2-15,  TECHNICAL MEMORANDUM No.8 Final Environmental Overview, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Prepared for Port of Seattle, Leigh Fisher and Synergy Consultants, Inc. May 2018 (

  15. Ibid, #6

  16. (a.) Ibid, #1. Page 18 of the Land Stewardship Plan notes that: “The City of SeaTac leases several properties from the Port, including North SeaTac Park and SeaTac Community Center. While LSP stewardship actions may be feasible in these areas, the LSP does not propose any action in these areas.”

    (b.) Ibid, #3b. Page 15.

    (c.) City of SeaTac Zoning Map,

    (d.) Agreement 02-A19, An Agreement with the Port of Seattle for Certain Port-Owned Properties Adjacent to North SeaTac Park, April 23, 2002, obtained through Public Records Request to the City of SeaTac.

  17. Port of Seattle v. The Pollution Control Hearings Board, Airport Communities Coalition;  Citizens Against Seatac Expansion;  and State of Washington, Department of Ecology, No. 73419-4.

    Decided: May 14, 2004  This decision paved the way for the Port of Seattle, over the objections of the Pollution Control Hearings Board, Washington’s Department of Ecology, and multiple citizen groups, to place over 20 million cubic feet of fill in a wooded canyon encompassing Miller Creek, filling in all or portions of 50 wetlands.

© 2024

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