Environmentalists protest Sea-Tac Airport plan to cut 2,800 trees

The city of SeaTac is trying to block the airport from cutting nearly 3,000 trees.

The sound of airplanes flying over trees is only a little louder than the anger of the airport's neighbors.

"They're used to being the bully on the block. They are the bully," Joel Wachtel said. "You can fight the big guy if you do it smart."

Wachtel and others are rallying to stop Sea-Tac Airport from cutting 2,800 trees.

The airport is required by the FAA to maintain safety zones for planes. In this case, officials claim the trees are too tall and stand in the way.

"Public safety has to be the number one priority," said Port Commissioner Fred Felleman.

Felleman is an avid environmentalist. He was nervous about the plan until he heard the airport will replace each cut tree with four new ones, along with underbrush. He also points to the fact that half the trees will come down with the expansion of State Route 509.

"I'm confident we're going to return this place to a condition better than we found it," Felleman said.

Wachtel and others don't buy it.

"We have a whole region concerned about climate change, and we have the equivalent of a coal-fired power plant sitting in the middle of our neighborhoods here," said Burien City Councilmember Debbi Wagner. "Homes and schools and nursing homes, people are being impacted. These people are some of the poorest and most diverse people in the county."

Wagner says the airport isn't following the rules. The city of SeaTac filed a legal challenge, arguing the airport deliberately avoided full environmental review by chopping its plan into three parts. They're asking for a court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement.

"Whereby an individual can't cut down a single tree in his yard, the Port can cut down 1,200 on their property and thousands more on private properties with not even an impact assessment," Roger Kadeg said.

According to airport officials, the project doesn't require an EIS because they have no choice: the trees have to go. They point to what they call past successes in mitigation areas like a small forest they planted after cutting down trees years ago.

The FAA doesn't get involved with specifying which trees an airport should cut. It's why people like Kent Palosaari don't trust the airport's plans.

He is worried the new tree species won't be as big, and it will take years for the new trees to grow.

"I want the best for my child. I think that’s what it comes down to. You want the best education. You want the best health," he said.

The public is invited to a meeting on November 1. For more information, visit portofseattle.org.

Copyright 2016 KING


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