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Burien sues FAA to stop flights overhead — and wins

BURIEN, Wash. – Burien residents, with the backing of the city, successfully sued the FAA getting them to change a new flight pattern over their community. The decision was announced this week, and it’s inspiring other cities to make similar moves.

“It started out 15-20 a day,” said Larry Cripe. “We’ve even had as many as 60 flights in one day, turn west.”

That turn didn’t exist, said Cripe, before June 2016. It didn’t exist before the FAA created it last year, and directed commuter flights to use it, without informing neighbors, communities or even the airport.

“It was like the FAA built three new runways, east-west runways, without pouring one foot of concrete,” said Cripe.

“They had done this without any public notice, they hadn’t told the city, they hadn’t told the Port of Seattle,” said Debi Wagner.

Wagner is on the Burien City Council and worked with Cripe to sue the FAA. She said it had to come to a lawsuit after the FAA refused to meet with them to discuss changing the flight plan.

“The FAA dropped the litigation, based on the initial two-page letter,” explained Wagner.

“It’s a huge win, nobody ever beats the federal government,” she said.

Wagner said she is excited, but not overly optimistic. She said they won the battle, not the war.

“You can band together, you can join together and fight and win, but in the grand scheme of things we’re fighting a Goliath that wants to grow even bigger,” she said.

Sea-Tac International Airport is expanding. They broke ground in February on a multimillion-dollar expansion project that will add eight gates for Alaska Airlines in the North Terminal. The Port of Seattle does not control where planes fly, just where they land. The FAA, they said, decides where and how to direct flights.

“It’s already a bad situation, that expansion is just going to make worse,” said Kent Palosaari.

Palosaari is working to engage SeaTac residents to find a solution to the noise and air pollution that comes from the airport and the flight paths. He said Burien’s win is a win for everyone.

“I hope it empowers the other communities that yes, we can do this,'” he said.

Wagner said SeaTac is just one of nearly a dozen communities that are in talks with Burien on what they can do to mitigate air traffic issues. Medina, Lake Forest Park, Shoreline, Beacon Hill, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Mercer Island, Redmond and Federal Way have already met with the city, said Wagner.

"All of these cities, we are all suffering. We’re suffering now in the present situation, they want to make it twice as bad. I can’t even imagine,” said Wagner.