Coffee With Port Commissioner John Creighton

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Photo Courtesy: David Clark

Port Commissioner John Creighton held a re-election coffee in Burien this past Friday. I sat down with Burien City Council Member Debi Wagner and Seatac Council Members Peter Kwon and Kathryn Campbell plus several members from the Quiet Skies Puget Sound group of Des Moines, Seatac and Federal Way. For all my complaints about the Port of Seattle, I have to give the Commissioner credit: he took some pretty tough questions for two solid hours and with a friendly demeanor.

I wish more people could show up for events like these. The Port is the most powerful government agency most people know almost nothing about and if you do show up, you get to talk directly to someone who has as much power in government as any State Senator or Congressman or Representative.

I’m new at this so as I (mostly) watched the experienced people. My impression was mainly one of the Council Members was this: how much patience and perseverance it takes. For example, Debi Wagner has been fighting battles with the Port over pollution and noise for twenty years and yet she remains positive, friendly, constructive. I have a lot to learn.

Me being me, I did vent a bit, of course. 😀 And I did make a couple of proposals, the first of which was quickly shot down as bush-league non-starter, but I’ll tell you about it anyway because I’m going to keep working on it. The Port operates a dozen ‘official’ (and many other unofficial) noise monitors throughout the area from which they gather data on the loudness of airplane traffic. That is the source of the noise studies you may have heard about. But this data has not been updated in many years because it is only used for official environmental impact studies. I would like to see those noise monitors re-purposed now and I would like even more monitors added as far as Federal Way since the noise problem has obviously extended so much further south in the last few years.

What I propose is that the Port publish a web page something like the Tidal Charts that sailors use in spreadsheet format. But in this version the chart would show the average noise for each monitor on the hour for each day of every month, plus the number of flights during each hours. So for example, you might see that Woodmont had 22 flights averaging 54dbA on Tuesday July 11 during the 2PM hour while North Hill had 17 flights averaging 61dbA on Friday June 24 during the 6AM hour.

Uses? A couple come to mind. First, real estate. I think buyers should have useful ‘noise numbers’ when searching for a house. Currently even buyers savvy enough to look up the available (and outdated) noise data would not find it very useful. You can’t trust a single number. But if you had the charts I propose, you actually could comparison shop. You could easily see which neighborhoods were noisier during a given time period (and by how much). One objection I can foresee is that the Port numbers might be low-balled (ie. that their decibles might be low.) To which I reply, ‘So what?’ Because even if they are fudged, at least they are standardized. You’re comparing apples to apples (neighborhood to neighborhood) so for the purposes of comparison shopping its still useful.

Second use? I think everyone appreciates having a certain degree of control over their life. And the first step to having any control is knowing what is actually going on. Look, when someone gets sick, what is the first thing most people want to do? Try to find out as much information as possible. We have a right to have current loudness data–especially since the equipment is already in place. And again, even if the numbers are lower than we might think is ‘real’, at least they are standardized.

My other idea had to do with an off-hand comment Mr. Creighton made during the conversation. He said something like, ‘Should we be thinking more about buyouts?’ and I furiously raised my hand in a half-comical way. But as the meeting was breaking up I said to him privately, “I’d probably want a million dollars for something like that.” Since the Commissioner is a lawyer, my thinking is was along the lines of a settlement where I would want to be made ‘whole’. I wouldn’t want replacement cost for my house–which is all I’ve ever seen offered in such settlements.

Now my house is not worth anywhere near a million dollars, of course, but I don’t think I’m being outrageous, either. To find a house with the same quality of life and amenities as many of us have enjoyed in Des Moines–just with fewer airplanes? (In other words, life with the clock wound back just a few years) Realistically, that would cost a lot more than market value.

Now, do I ever expect such compensation to occur? I’m not holding my breath 😀 But everyone is always trying to quantify ‘mitigation’ and I think that’s the wrong question. The question for me is, “How much would it cost to make you whole.” And as we move down the road towards holding the Port and other institutions accountable for the damage they have done to our community, that’s the bar I’m looking at; not ‘mitigation’.