The Airport Ecology Fund and the Port's Role in Helping Build Healthy Communities

I strongly believe that the Port of Seattle has a significiant role to play in helping communities throughout King County, particularly around Port operations, maintain healthy ecologies as the region densifies. I am therefore proud to have received sole endorsements from both the Washington Conservation Voters and TreePAC in support of my 2017 campaign for re-election to the Port Commission.

Not well known is that the Port owns and manages 24 parks and green spaces across King County, many of them along the Seattle waterfront. During my tenure on the Commission, we have directed Port staff to use all organic fertilizers and techniques in keeping up those parks. As part of our 25-year job growth plan, the Commission has set a goal for the Port to restore 40 acres of habitat in areas near Port operations, particularly along the Duwamish.

When the EPA directed the Port to clean up the brownfield site at Terminal 117 in the South Park neighborhood, I worked with community leaders to determine how best to use the Terminal going forward. After receiving input from residents at a community meeting at South Park Elementary, the Commission directed Port staff to clean up Terminal 117 to a higher standard than what the EPA had mandated and restore river habitat along the property. It was a decision that was good for the environment, good for the local community and good for Port operations – the Port will now be able to bank the restored habitat as mitigation for a future economic development project.

When I was President of the Commission in 2016, airport staff asked for the Commission’s authorization to cut up to 3,000 trees on and surrounding airport grounds, which was mandated by the FAA because the trees were growing into the airport’s “Flight Corridor Safety Zone.” While staff proposed to replant four “height appropriate” trees for every one tree that was cut down, my colleagues and I still had concerns about the sheer number of trees proposed to be cut and whether and how quickly newly planted trees would provide the same ecological benefits as the existing canopies.

The percentage of urban land covered by tree canopies is critical to maintaining healthy communities. One study indicates that a healthy city should have at least 40% of its area covered by tree canopies. This is even more critical for communities around the airport because tree canopy ecosystems provide sight and noise buffers as well as filtering air and water.

After several community meetings, we directed staff to modify the program to be done in stages and to postpone the cutting of several areas with significant conifer growth until the Port did further study. Under my leadership, the Commission established a $1 million Airport Community Ecology (ACE) Fund aimed at increasing urban tree canopy coverage in the cities of Seatac, Burien and Des Moines. The Port contracted with Forterra to administer part of the fund and has set aside the rest of the fund for community small grants to improve the ecology of neighborhoods around the airport.

Yesterday, I had the honor of announcing the first 11 grantees of the Airport Community Ecology Fund small grants program. You can find out more information on the ACE Fund small grants program and the initial grantees here. It has been wonderful to see the response from local, grassroots organizations on how we can work together to help make their community better.

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