LETTER: Vashon is dump for noise, air pollution

Thank you for tackling a daunting technical subject with your Aug. 22 plane noise article. I want to focus this follow-up letter on a single aspect: why this flight path/procedure change should concern all islanders.

If you’re lucky enough to live distant from where the FAA drew its north/south 100-yard wide flight path for up to 250 lowered altitude arrivals a day, then you may not be particularly bothered now. Just as before NextGen (the FAA’s ongoing overhaul of air traffic control), you weren’t bothered by flight paths thousands of feet higher, dispersed over a swath miles wide.

However, once a community becomes the de facto dumping ground for any environmentally damaging pollution, be it noise or ultra-fine particles from engine exhaust, and has accepted it quietly, it creates an inexorable suction of that pollution from all other areas of the region.

The FAA has designated Vashon as the dump for downwind noise and air pollution. A corresponding NextGen-focused arrival path on Seattle’s east side was never considered. An internal Port of Seattle email from September 2015 to Commissioner Bowman said, “Due to noise considerations, no approaches from the east were included in the program.” In fact, some nighttime east side arrivals are now being actively diverted over Vashon. If you’re not bothered now, by the time you are, it could be too late to do anything about it. The bucolic character of Vashon will be gone for more and more islanders.

One thing the article did not make clear: Phoenix did not just sue the FAA over a NextGen flight path change, it won. In August 2017, the usually staid DC Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, “The idea that a change with these effects would not be highly controversial is ‘so implausible’ that it could not reflect reasoned decision making.”

— David Goebel

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