Thoughts on adding large airports in Pierce County

By Claudia Finseth

I’m working today, as I always do, from my home near the intersection of Spanaway Loop Road and 138th Street South. Close by is Joint Base Lewis McCord, and as on most days, I am experiencing its considerable noise pollution.

Today it is the running or warming up of the big transport plane engines. At least once a week it is transport planes practicing what I think are called ‘touch and go,’ (I am not an expert on these things) or repeated take off and landings. They take off, turn, fly over Parkland and Spanaway at a very low altitude, and land, then repeat. And repeat. The house shakes, windows rattle, the noise gets so loud I have to pause any conversation. When I was a student at PLU, class lectures were interrupted while we waited for the planes to pass. 

Frequently, there are night departures. It’s not unusual to wake at midnight, one or two a.m. to the noise.

And that’s just the air base part of it. Several times a year the army base runs what sounds like war game exercises. Explosions and gunfire. 

Now the Washington State Department of Transportation wants to build a new large airport in the same area, out of which would fly passenger jets. All three proposed sites for this new airport are close to Joint Base Lewis McCord. Each one of them could double the heavy noise pollution residents already experience. 

The Pierce County Council wrote a letter objecting to this proposal, pointing out that this part of the county lacks “transportation, sewer and water infrastructure” to support such an airport. They state the sites are ‘outside the boundaries of the Public Transportation Benefit Area and no transit service is available or planned . . . Providing the required infrastructure is likely cost prohibitive and brings with it concerns regarding development and growth outside the Urban Growth Area.’

Okay. All good reasons to my mind.

Now consider that, simultaneously, Pierce County itself—the very people who oppose the proposed airport—wants to locate a large homeless Tiny Village on eighty acres in the same area.

Don’t their objections to the airport also apply to a homeless village? Out here we have a very small tax base, few employment opportunities or services. We have no hospital, no technical or community college, no YMCA or public swimming pool. We have minimal public transportation. How will the homeless make their way out of homelessness in such a location?

Many homeless people are traumatized people. Will it help them heal to be near the artillery, gunfire and heavy noises of the base? And if another airport is built out here, won’t that only traumatize our homeless even more?

The County claims services will be provided for the homeless village. But for how long? And then what? All our homeless corralled together in a semi-rural area. I guess I’m concerned that eventually could become not unlike a modern day leper colony. Out of sight, out of mind. Is this what they really deserve? Does this really help their plight?

Simultaneously I’m deeply concerned, as a resident in an unincorporated area that has no mayoral oversight protection, that we are an easy dumping ground for unpopular projects by both the county and the state. Certainly there seems to be little or no coordination between WSDOT and Pierce County. 

The proposed airport and the proposed homeless village are a lot to impose on any one area.

[Editor Note: The Washington State Legislature authorized the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission to seek out sites for a new commercial airport. Two sites were listed in Pierce County, one in Graham and one in the Lacamas area. Both are not supported by County officials because they are outside the urban area infrastructure of the county.

A Town Hall Meeting will be held on January 13, 2023, 7 p.m., at Graham Kapowsin High School regarding the Pierce County sites. The event is by the group Coalition Against Graham and Eatonville-Roy Airports.]

[There is also a Regional Aviation Baseline study funded by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Puget Sound Regional Council.]

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