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Originally published August 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 5, 2005 at 10:09 AM

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Lawmakers against Southwest's proposal

Most of Washington state's congressional delegation and local business leaders blasted Southwest Airlines' proposal to operate from a refurbished...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Most of Washington state's congressional delegation and local business leaders blasted Southwest Airlines' proposal to operate from a refurbished Boeing Field, adding powerful voices to a growing chorus of opposition.

But a top aide to King County Executive Ron Sims described the criticism as premature and inaccurate.

In a letter to Sims dated July 29, both U.S. senators and five House members from Washington said Southwest Airlines' proposal to transfer its flights to Boeing Field from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport would "potentially waste taxpayer dollars."

The delegation argued Southwest's presence at Boeing Field would "undoubtedly require significant road improvements," they wrote.

Since federal laws prohibit money generated by Boeing Field to be used for general-access roads, King County would need an infusion of public money "when the city, county and state are desperately searching for funding solutions for critical regional projects."

A move by Dallas-based Southwest from Sea-Tac also would hurt Alaska Airlines, which is headquartered in Seattle, and threaten 3,800 local jobs, according to the letter.

In a separate missive, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce yesterday wrote the plan "is not in the best interests of King County taxpayers... ."

What's more, Southwest's move could harm Sea-Tac and "greatly harm our region's future aspirations for more international carriers and routes," the chamber letter said.

Sims' chief of staff, Kurt Triplett, responded that few if any public dollars would be used. "We've been crystal clear that we have no money to invest in Boeing Field," he said.

Sims wrote his own letter earlier this week to mayors and community groups, assuring them all potential downsides to the Southwest deal would be explored.

"And it is my sincerest hope that you and the people of this region take time to study the proposal, as I will, before coming to a conclusion about whether it is worthwhile," wrote Sims.

Southwest said last month it wants to build a new terminal at Boeing Field and run up to 85 daily flights there, compared with 38 now at Sea-Tac, to avoid increased per-passenger costs that would help pay for Sea-Tac's $4.2 billion, 10-year expansion.

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Southwest said it can't offer low fares without moving.

In a move that could delay or scuttle efforts to connect Sound Transit's light-rail line to Sea-Tac, the Port of Seattle announced it is putting about $580 million in airport-expansion projects on hold until it knows whether Southwest will decamp to the county-owned airport.

The congressional letter was not signed by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, whose district includes Boeing Field. His spokesman, Mike DeCesare, said: "Jim's gathering information and wants to understand the issue from both sides."

Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, and Cathy McMorris, R-Spokane, also did not sign it.

In the last congressional election, Alaska Airlines' political action committee contributed $10,000 to House members from Washington. It also donated $3,000 to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Southwest gave $2,000 to Murray.

"Alaska Airlines has worked hard on the delegation," said Triplett, adding: "Southwest is a good corporate citizen who only buys Boeing planes."

Many of the delegation's concerns, he said, are unfounded. The impact of Southwest's move on Alaska Airlines' bottom line is not known, Triplett said.

As for the threatened 3,800 jobs, he said: "I have no idea where that number came from. I don't know how anyone could be that precise."

In its letter, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce wrote: "We do not see the wisdom of two commercial airports ... simultaneously competing for scarce federal and regional infrastructure and security dollars."

Triplett said the chamber was swayed by the Port of Seattle, which has a financial interest in keeping airlines at its Sea-Tac facility. "That's what's most galling," he said.

In the coming months, Sims will likely use existing resources to study noise, potential road improvements and other impacts of expanding Boeing Field. If the numbers look promising, Sims will ask the King County Council for further funds to conduct an exhaustive examination of the Southwest plan.

"Let's take a deep breath and do a real analysis," said Triplett. "All we want to do is have people give us time to study this."

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

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