There's no doubt that Georgetown is a neighborhood under siege, penned in by a major airport, a web of freeways, heavy manufacturing plants, warehouses, and a toxic river with all its natural curves removed. If the war between residents and the powers that be could be distilled down to three critical battlefronts, here's where they'd fall:

The Ever-Expanding Airport

King County International Airport (KCIA)--home to Boeing Field--has grown in recent decades into a monster of a business, practically taking over Georgetown. The airport has seen a dramatic increase in cargo flights for companies like Federal Express, and Boeing has stepped up its loud, chemically assaultive process of aircraft testing. Plus, the airport wants to extend its north runway by 800 feet. Residents are faced with trying to steer future growth of this unwieldy behemoth, although it's unclear whether they can actually have an impact on KCIA's upcoming Master Plan.

Neighbors originally formed committees in order to better influence the process, but in 1998, KCIA replaced them with a group of King County Council-appointed representatives from several airport-impacted neighborhoods. Georgetown lost direct representation. KCIA came up with a pre-master plan in 1998 that was approved by the King County Council. Neighbors fear that it will give KCIA a license to expand before conducting a formal environmental study, and before allowing for public comment. They point out that the King County Council is already taking steps to pre-approve a lease for a controversial helicopter company.

"Their planning process is a charade," claims lawyer and Georgetown resident Marvin McCoy. "They already know they're going to make it a major cargo airport." He says KCIA is busily removing small hangars to make way for expanded airport businesses, despite the fact that neighbors filed a lawsuit last August to stop the growth (the case is set for trial early next year).

Cynthia Stewart, KCIA's manager, says the new construction is simply part of modernizing an airport largely built in the '70s. As for the planned runway extension, which Georgetown residents fear will bring planes obnoxiously close to their homes, Stewart calls it a "shift" rather than an expansion--KCIA will be cutting a runway from the south end and adding more on the north. "Planes won't be landing closer to neighbors," she says, "But they may be taking off closer."

Stinky Air

Georgetown is a very toxic place. Planes are constantly burning and dumping fuel on the neighborhood. Eighteen-wheelers barrel down residential streets. Industries spew out strange chemicals. The Duwamish River is filled with poisoned fish. And neighbors talk about the "Georgetown drip," a condition marked by a constantly running nose.

The nastiness pushed real estate agent and long-time Georgetown resident Lorna Dove to become the neighborhood's main advocate for environmental justice. In 1995, she started looking for funding to conduct air, noise, and soil tests. Since then, she's devoted extensive hours toward researching and measuring chemicals like benzene and toluene, byproducts of jet fuel and plane exhaust. Dove's strongest ally has been the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta, which, after conducting a risk assessment of air quality in 1998, found that Georgetown residents had "a higher risk for leukemia and thyroid cancer" than the population at large. As a result, KCIA included $200,000 in the draft of its Master Plan for an air-quality study.

More recently, Dove and her neighbor Tim O'Brien have become concerned about the possible toxic effects of a nearby industrial plant. The plant stores and processes cyanide, a volatile industrial byproduct. Though a plant spokesperson says it "complies with all public health and safety standards," Dove says that "a cyanide release could cause fatalities over a wide area."

The City of Seattle's Crazy Plan

Seattle's planners consider industrial corridors key to survival. Unfortunately, Georgetown sits right in the middle of one of them. That's why the city's Greater Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial Plan, put together largely by industry representatives, poses a real threat to what's left of Georgetown.

The Plan portrays industrial land as "an endangered species" in need of protection, and costly toxic site cleanups as contrary to economic growth. It brags that further industrialization of the area will create thousands of "new family-wage industrial jobs." But how do Georgetowners fit into the scheme? "According to an industrial perspective," says Karma Ruder of Seattle's Office of Neighborhood Development, "residents make it harder for other uses to settle in Georgetown." When asked how industrial growth aligns with environmental health, she responded, "It's a tough concept to sort through."

Neighborhood residents plan to fight the Duwamish Plan with their own neighborhood plan, which focuses on residential needs, and was completed and sent to the City Council for approval on June 9. And they may even get the money they need to make changes. After visiting Georgetown, Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck asked the council to include the neighborhood in their Neighborhood Opportunity Levy, which will be on the ballot next fall. Georgetown could receive as much as $1.4 million.

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