Advocacy: Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) Mandate Likely Headed for Overhaul

by Doug Mah, Doug Mah & Associates, Thurston County Chamber Public Policy Director

At the time of this writing, it appears that the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) and its original mandate are headed for a complete overhaul.

The CACC created a firestorm that it was unable to extinguish when the Commission identified three potential sites in Pierce and Thurston counties as possible preferred locations to meet Washington’s growing commercial airport needs. The Thurston Chamber was one of thousands to voice opposition to the inclusion of the “Thurston County Central” as one possible site for a new airport under consideration by the CACC.

Created in State law by unanimous votes in the State House and Senate in 2019, the CACC was charged with initiating a broad review of potential aviation facility sites, reviewing existing data, conducting research, and identifying a single preferred location for a new commercial airport facility. The legislation established a flawed process. Negative reaction from the public was fierce and lawmakers were quick to respond when the list of sites was narrowed to three.

At the end of the 2023 Legislative Session, we can expect a new commission and a better process that protects communities, broadens the scope for review of sites, and doesn’t require the selection of a single site. The entire CACC debacle contains several key lessons for Chamber members to learn from.

Pay attention to early studies – It is common for governments at all levels to conduct “studies” or to convene special commissions to start exploring alternatives. It is important that we monitor the scope, scale, and schedule for these studies as soon as possible. They provide insight into who will be impacted and in what way.

Participate in the process – The CACC was in existence for 3 years before “regular” folks took notice of their work. Although their “calls for participation” could have been more robust, in hindsight, the region should have engaged early and often in the process. Early and consistent participation will shape the final decisions without controversy.

Stay connected with policy makers – The CACC did not just appear like magic. Growth in commercial aviation is very apparent and needs to be addressed with or without the CACC. Developing solutions to regional airport capacity and other pressing transportation needs, like all public policy, requires sustained relationships with policy makers so that balanced solutions can be achieved.

The Thurston region and Washington State will continue to grow. This growth will bring opportunities and challenges that can have a profound impact on the places we all call home. It is important that the Chamber, and Chamber members, stay connected with our elected officials at all levels, pay attention to early studies, and most importantly – participate in the process. In a post-pandemic world, State and local governments are using more on-line surveys to gather community input. Although on-line surveys are convenient, they are entirely dependent on who participates.

We can expect more conflict around future land use decisions, perhaps not as large as a new regional airport, but likely containing the same entrenched conflicts. We consistently observe that public policy is determined by those that participate. Please join the Public Policy Division as we work to improve our individual and collective participation in the public process.

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