Sea-Tac: Cost of third runway could top $1 billion

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter


Sea-Tac, WA - A Port of Seattle commissioner and runway opponents say they expect the new estimated cost of the

...16 conditions including the testing of fill dirt that airport officials said would make it nearly impossible to find enough clean dirt to build the runway.

proposed third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to be more than $1 billion, double the estimate of eight years ago.

New estimates are being presented today to commissioners of the Port, which operates the airport.

"I'm not going to be surprised if it comes in over $1 billion," said Port Commissioner Bob Edwards, who hadn't seen the new estimate.

Edwards said he expected the costs to rise substantially from earlier estimates because of permit requirements for such matters as additional storm-water-retention areas.

"The things we are required to do now are bigger than what they were before," he said. "This (estimate) is closer to what we are actually building."

Stuart Creighton, chairman of the Airport Communities Coalition, which is fighting the new runway, said, "It's nothing new to us."

"We've been saying for years that this runway would cost in excess of a billion dollars," he said. "We have always said that the budget for this project was much higher than airport officials have admitted."

Cost to build the new runway, which would parallel the two existing runways, was estimated at $430 million in 1995. Five years ago the projected cost grew to $773 million.

Airport officials would not say what the new numbers would be, except to acknowledge that delays and lawsuits have increased the costs.

"There's been no secret about the amount of litigation and the amount of delay," said Bob Parker, Port spokesman.

Two lawsuits involving the runway are pending. One, in the state Supreme Court, is an appeal by the Port and the Department of Ecology over permit conditions set by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

In 2001, the board put a hold on a key state permit that would allow the port to fill 18 acres of wetlands to make way for the new runway. The Ecology Department had given the Port permission to fill the wetlands and build the third runway on top, but opponents argued that would pollute creeks and harm fish.

The hearings board gave the airport permission to build the runway, but it set 16 conditions including the testing of fill dirt that airport officials said would make it nearly impossible to find enough clean dirt to build the runway.

The Legislature in April passed a bill that would allow the Port to use a different form of testing that would make it easier to find dirt to use in construction. Runway opponents say the hearing board's requirements would better protect the environment.

The Port and Ecology Department are asking the Supreme Court to rule that the board did not have the authority to review the permit and impose conditions, Creighton said.

"We like the conditions and we're saying we agree with the state that the Pollution Control Hearings Board ... decision is valid," he said.

A hearing on the lawsuit is expected this fall.

The second lawsuit is in federal court and is scheduled for a hearing in late July. Opponents appealed permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, arguing the agency did not follow federal regulations in issuing a wetlands permit for the runway.

The port says it needs a new 8,500-foot runway to handle traffic at Sea-Tac, particularly during bad weather.

But Creighton said studies show the airport has less than 1 percent traffic delays.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or J. Martin McOmber, Times business reporter, contributed to this report.


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