Seaplane issues

This web page on seaplane issues ( is part of the Eastlake Community Council’s web site ( It is intended as a resource for those who are following the current debate about the appropriate balance between seaplanes and other uses of Seattle’s Lake Union. The first section provides links to the key documents, including the 1989 Lake Union Seaplane Agreement, 1989 and 2013 City Council resolutions, the 2014-2018 paper trail of applications and approvals by six federal, state, and local agencies, as well as Kenmore Air’s August 2019 letter proposing expansion of a partial exclusion zone for seaplanes, and the Seaplane Environmental Coalition’s November 5, 2019 reply. The second section provides links to media coverage on the issue. Additional sections then provide background and analysis. Suggestions for additional web links or documents are welcome (as are comments), to

Key documents and links regarding seaplanes on Lake Union

As most of the following decision documents are not on governmental web sites,the Eastlake Community Council had to obtain them separately, many through requests under the Washington state Public Records Act. ECC offers these documents to promote public access and understanding, regardless of the user’s position on the issue of the seaplane buoys on Lake Union. ECC welcomes documents and links suggested for addition to this list; please write to

Kenmore Air August August 14, 2019 letter to City of Seattle proposing an expanded exclusion zone on Lake Union for its seaplane operations Click here. The Kenmore Air web site ( apparently does not mention the letter or issue; the most recent mention appears to be from 2018,

Seaplane Environmental Coalition November 5, 2019 letter to City of Seattle responding to the Kenmore Air August 14, 2019 letter. Click here. The Seaplane Environmental Coalition is a part of Save Lake Union, which is sponsoring an on-line petition and whose web site is http://

Lake Union Seaplane Agreement and Seattle City Council Resolution 28003 which adopted it on June 19, 1989: Click here. Title of Resolution 28003: “A resolution recognizing the Lake Union Seaplane Agreement between the City of Seattle, Kenmore Air Harbor, Lake Union Air and Chrysler Air, and members of the Lake Union Seaplane Committee, and establishing noise abatement practices for seaplane operations from Lake Union.”

Seattle City Council Resolution 31449 (adopted May 6, 2013) and its fiscal note: Click here. Title of Resolution 31449: “A resolution declaring the City Council’s intent to support the growth and livability of the South Lake Union Urban Center by working with other City departments to implement initiatives that complement changes to land use regulations.” The Res. 31449 fiscal note is also available separately by clicking here.

City of Seattle’s 2014 application to DNR for a permit for seaplane runway buoys: Click here.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2015 summary of the City’s initial application: Click here.

DNR’s February 2016 DNR analysis (including a map showing the latest proposed buoy locations, and a summary of the public comment): Click here.

City of Seattle’s 2017 revised application with the 2016 map and a 2017 drawing of the buoys and their anchors: Click here.

DNR’s March 2018 license to the City of Seattle for right of entry to install the buoys: Click here.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers July 2017 permit to City of Seattle for seaplane runway buoys: Click here.

U.S. Coast Guard May 2017 permit to City of Seattle for seaplane runway buoys: Click here.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife April 2015 hydraulic permit and July 2016 permit modification to City of Seattle for seaplane runway buoys: Click here for the permit and click here for the “minor modification.”

Washington State Department of Ecology Coastal Zone Management February 2016 conditional concurrency letter allowing City of Seattle to install seaplane runway buoys: Click here.

City of Seattle January 2015 exemption (issued to itself) under the City’s Shoreline Code from the need for a shorelines permit for the seaplane runway buoys: Click here.

Media coverage and commentary on the seaplane issue

“Lake Union seaplanes take center stage as safety concerns arise,” Q13 Fox TV, November 18, 2019. Click here.

“Paddleboards vs. pilots: Kenmore Air, Lake Union neighbors clash over crowded waters,” Seattle Times (November 7, 2019). Click here.

“Lake takeover by seaplane? Kenmore Air says critics don’t get it,” KUOW-FM audio and print story (November 8, 2019) Click here.

“Summer trial of seaplane “runway” buoys upends a century of balance among uses: Will City/State officials fairly evaluate it and seek wide public comment before considering renewal?” in Eastlake News(Spring 2018), pp. 9-12. Click here. In the summer 2018 Eastlake News , p. 12, is a DNR comment on the article and a response by the article’s author; click here

“Growth’s Impact on Lake Union: More flights — and a seaplane runway” Crosscut (April 27, 2018 and subsequent comments). Click here.

“Seaplane service from Seattle’s Lake Union to Vancouver starts April 26, but it won’t be cheap,” Seattle Times (April 5, 2018). Click here.

Kenmore Air seeks expansion of a partial exclusion zone on Lake Union after WA State DNR and five other agencies allowed a summer 2018 and 2019 pilot study of lighted buoys marking seaplane takeoff and landing areas

On August 14, 2019, Kenmore Air sent a letter to the City of Seattle proposing an expanded exclusion zone on Lake Union for its seaplane operations beyond what was allowed in a pilot study in the summers of 2018 and 2019. For the letter, click here. The Seaplane Environmental Coalition responded with a November 5, 2019 letter (click here.].

Controversy over the 2019 Kenmore Air proposal is covered, for example, in a Nov. 7, 2019 article in the Seattle Times (click here. The letter renews and revises a Kenmore Air proposal that regulatory authorities had previously rejected, for two lines of buoys to create a partial exclusion zone for seaplane operations. It also requests enforcement by the Harbor Patrol of the Seattle Police Department. The current and following sections provide background on the controversy.

In March 2018, by issuing to the City of Seattle a license for right of entry, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) became the crucial sixth and final public agency to approve the City’s 2014 application to place a line of buoys centered in the south half of Lake Union. The City’s application (p. 5) states that the buoys are “to demarcate a floatplane landing zone to allow for safe ingress and egress of floatplanes.”

The five buoys will be in a north-south line, 750 feet apart. The northernmost buoy will be offshore from Boston St., and the southernmost buoy will be would be a few hundred feet from the docks at Lake Union Park and a short distance from the marina to the east of the park. That is very close to Kenmore Air’s seaplane base. The buoys will be lit constantly, with float plane pilots able remotely to cause additional lights on the buoys to flash on and off when a plane is about to land or take off. Anchors for the buoys will be screwed deep into the lake bed.

The City application originally was for two rows of four buoys each, with the northernmost in line with Boston Street, and the southernmost being in line with Highland Avenue (ambiguous, because West Highland Avenue is a block or two south of Highland Drive and Highland Street which are east of Lake Union).

The City later revised its application to be for five buoys, with the north and south ends the same as originally. AS DNR has granted the one-year 2018 license, the southernmost buoy will apparently be roughly aligned with E. Nelson Place. The north-south buoys are to be 750 feet apart, a reduction from the original 1000 foot separation.

The DNR license allows the City to install the buoys by the week before Memorial Day 2018 and requires their removal by the week after Labor Day 2018 (the anchors will apparently remain in the lake bed). Although the City requested that the license be for the maximum five years, DNR issued just a one-year license, so the City of Seattle will need to apply for another license if it wishes to continue the buoys in 2019 and subsequent years. DNR considers the 2018 license a trial period, and is considering issuing the next license for a multi-year period, possibly the maximum five years allowed by state law.

Background on issues surrounding the summer 2018 and 2019 trials of seaplane runway buoys upends a century of balance among uses.

For the first time ever in the summers of 2018 and 2019, lighted buoys marked two 4000-foot north-south seaplane “runways” in the middle of Lake Union. Kenmore Air Harbor, Inc. installed them with funds from the Washington Department of Transportation, and a license from the Washington Department of Natural Resources granted to the City of Seattle. None of these agencies fairly weighed the negative impacts on other users of Lake Union amidst evidence that seaplane traffic is overwhelming our cherished urban lake. Links to the six agencies’ approval documents are provided above.

The controversy forced DNR to limit the current license to a trial period (between one week before Memorial Day and one week after Labor Day 2018). But without increased public outcry, the agency is unlikely to do a thorough evaluation and will again fail to adequately publicize the follow-on proposal, and will not listen to public input that is overwhelmingly against the seaplane landing buoys.

When Seattle was much smaller, with no airport, Lake Union was the aviation industry’s incubator. Eastlake is proud that from a seaplane base at the foot of E. Roanoke Street, the Boeing Airplane Company in 1916 assembled and flew its first aircraft and in 1918 made the nation’s first international mail delivery.

Although Boeing soon moved to the Duwamish area, seaplanes remain to this day an integral and valued part of Lake Union life. But corporate expansion is endangering this status by threatening safety and sustainability.

The balance among competing uses of Lake Union is upset now that flights are at 30,000 a year (sometimes 100 on a summer day). If the buoys remain, the number of flights will continue to grow. Kenmore Air and Harbour Air (respectively the largest seaplane operators in the U.S. and Canada) have announced preparations for regularly scheduled seaplane service between Seattle and Vancouver B.C.

A century of coexistence with marine businesses and residents worked because the seaplanes weren’t numerous and they were operated by individuals or very small businesses. Lake Union’s marine industry was diverse and unimpeded by the seaplanes. Recreational use of Lake Union was sharply limited by pollution (the Gasworks operated 1906-56) and the lack of shoreline parks—not even a vehicle ramp for boat launches.

Now the water and air are much cleaner, and there are dozens of shoreline parks (including the Sunnyside Avenue boat launch ramp and many places to launch small craft) and a lakefront walking and bicycle route. A larger and different population has steadily increased the use of sail and motor boats (including cruise businesses), kayaks, canoes, rowing sculls, and paddle and sail boards. The shipyards, large vessel moorages, yacht dealers, and fishing companies around Lake Union have larger vessels that will be constrained by a line of buoys.

For many decades the number of flights on Lake Union was quite low, and even in the 1970s did not exceed 5000 per year. However, the expansion of scheduled service brought the number of flights by the mid-1980s to over 10,000 a year. Other users of the lake and those who live or work around it became concerned, and beginning in 1978 they pressed the seaplane operators for a series of voluntary agreements. The late, great Bill Keasler (1946-2016), longtime president of the Floating Homes Association, also for decades led efforts to limit seaplane flights and noise. The City of Seattle convened a Lake Union Seaplane Committee of community groups and seaplane operators. The operators resisted a lid on flight numbers, arguing that one wasn’t needed because past increases had leveled off. But since that time, the number of flights has continued to grow, with no end in sight.

The Lake Union Seaplane Committee did produce a 1989 “binding agreement” in which the City of Seattle was for the first time a party). It was signed by the Mayor, by community groups (including the Eastlake Community Council and the Floating Homes Association) and by the seaplane operators.

The 1989 agreement did not address the number of flights, but made some operational improvements. Among them: no commercial takeoffs before 9 a.m. on Sundays, and 8 a.m. other days; no takeoffs or landings on Portage Bay; and specified locations for taxiing, takeoffs, landings, and the path and altitude of flights. To see the agreement, the City Council resolution accepting it, and maps of takeoff and landing paths, click here.

The changes recently sought by the seaplane industry and supported by the City of Seattle appear in some ways to violate their commitments in the 1989 Lake Union Seaplane Agreement, and were adopted without any effort by the City as steward of the Agreement to reconvene the Lake Union Seaplane Committee to allow it to consider any proposed revisions to the Agreement.

And the City of Seattle has violated two explicit commitments it made in the Mayor’s signing the agreement and in accepting via City Council resolution: to chair and continue to convene the Committee; and “to maintain and publicize a central location,” including a phone number, to receive “complaints and compliments” about seaplane operations, and to “make the comments available to the public.”

No longer the honest broker, Seattle City government seems to have been captured by the seaplane operators. The City did not seek any public comment before applying to DNR for a permanent license for the seaplane landing buoys, and it has not asked the public for suggestions on how to evaluate this summer’s trial experience with the buoys.

When pressed as to the absence of consultation with the affected neighborhoods and other stakeholders prior to applying for the buoy-marked runway, the City officials points to the 2013 City Council Resolution 31339, whose misleading title is “Declaring the City Council’s intend to support the growth and livability of the South Lake Union Urban Center by working with other City departments to implement initiatives that complement changes to land use regulations.”

Res. 31339 included as its last item the following statement, about which none of the affected neighborhoods and stakeholders were consulted: “The Council supports the efforts by Kenmore Air to secure grant funding from the Washington Department of Transportation for a system of buoys to signal to boaters when seaplane operations, such as landings and takeoffs, are about to occur and, if necessary, will consider further statements of support for a grant application by Kenmore Air.”

The Res. 31339 language is unfortunate and should be repealed; but it certainly did not authorize the City of Seattle to apply to DNR for permission to allow the buoys or for the City of Seattle to install them. City officials improperly used City resources to do work that Res. 31339 clearly left to Kenmore Air. This episode is typical of many others under former Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council at that time in which City agencies promoted private interests at the expanse of the public interest, and without making any effort to consult beforehand with neighborhoods and other stakeholders who would suggest a different course. Will the new Mayor and City Council be more even-handed?

Lake Union probably has the most seaplane takeoffs and landings of any U.S. location (there are a lot also at Kenmore Air Harbor, at the north end of Lake Washington). The only seaplane bases in North America with more flights are in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. The busiest is Vancouver Harbor Flight Center (adjacent to downtown), with well over 40,000 takeoffs and landings yearly.

There is another major seaplane base on the Fraser River adjacent to Vancouver International Airport, with up to 100 takeoffs and landings on a summer day. A control tower in a downtown skyscraper manages the seaplane operations of the two Vancouver operations.

Canada’s second busiest seaplane base is Victoria Harbor Water Airport with about 30,000 takeoffs and landings yearly. Operations are coordinated by a flight service station that operates like a control tower. Seaplanes also take off and land at the Victoria International Airport’s WaterAerodrome 14 miles away.

The context of seaplane operations in Vancouver and Victoria is dramatically different from the current or proposed format for seaplanes on Lake Union. The comparison suggests that seaplanes will never be as safe on Lake Union, especially at the current or increasing level of seaplane flights. On Lake Union, conflict between seaplanes and the other uses is uniquely irreconcilable. Unless the growth in seaplane traffic is reversed, recreational and industrial uses will increasingly suffer, as will safety.

One major difference from Lake Union is that these Canadian locations centrally control the seaplane traffic. Although the Lake Union seaplane companies coordinate their own flights, there is not a centralized control tower or flight service station.

Another difference is that the takeoff and landing areas in Vancouver and Victoria are exclusively for seaplanes, with boats of all kinds prohibited. In Victoria, harbor ferries and water taxis are allowed to cross the takeoff and landing area, but must yield to seaplanes and display a flashing yellow light while doing so.

DNR acknowledges that boats are not required to stay out of the seaplane “runway” marked by the buoys, whether or not a seaplane is present and wishing to take off or land. It would take highly controversial federal, state, and local action to legally exclude boats from seaplane areas on Lake Union, and so the seaplane operators are using the buoys to achieve this privatization informally.

One reason why conflict between seaplanes and boats is so much more intense and dangerous on Lake Union is that in the Canadian harbors, most types of boats are either prohibited or tightly restricted. In the 5000 acres of Vancouver Harbor that are adjacent to the city, motor boats are allowed but recreational moorages are limited. And there is an absolute prohibition on anchoring, fishing, sailing, rowing, paddling, etc.

Victoria Harbor (620 acres) is far smaller, but still is larger than Lake Union (580 acres). In the harbor, seaplanes encounter few boats because only manually powered vessels (rowboats, sculls, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, etc.) have wide access; and because sailing is entirely prohibited, and powered boats are confined to traffic lanes.

The prohibitions and restrictions on boating in Vancouver and Victoria harbors help explain why buoys are not much needed to define the seaplane runways. There is just one buoy in Vancouver, and none in Victoria, which relies on four shore-based strobe lights, activated by the Flight Service Station prior to a takeoff or landing. The point is that too few boats are allowed to be present in the harbors to occasion dangerous encounters with the seaplanes.

To summarize: in Vancouver and Victoria, boats are absolutely prohibited from the seaplane runways; and in the wider harbor areas different types of boats are either prohibited or tightly restricted. Imagine how such limits would upend the glorious diversity of boating on Lake Union, where every kind of boat is allowed: powered boats, sailboats and sailboards, rowboats and sculls, canoes and kayaks, paddleboards, and on and on. All are subject to the Seattle Harbor Code’s 7 knot/nautical mph speed limit–unlike the seaplanes, which even when not taking off or landing are required to observe the 7 knot speed limit only if they are within 200 yards of shore or a dock.

When a seaplane is on the water, U.S. Coast Guard navigation rules classify it as a marine vessel. To avoid collisions between marine vessels, these “rules of the road” impose a hierarchy regarding which vessels have the burden to give way and which have the privilege of maintaining their location and movement. The Coast Guard’s Navigation Rule 18 gives manual-powered vessels (rowboats, rowing sculls, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, etc.) the highest privilege, followed by sailing vessels, then power-driven vessels, and in last place, seaplanes, which have the lowest privilege and the highest burden to defer to the others.

This legally burdened status of seaplanes is further stated in the Coast Guard’s Rule 18 as follows: “A seaplane on the water shall, in general, keep well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation.” An exemption from this burden for seaplanes is with narrow channels or required traffic separation — possibly allowing the seaplane “runway” buoys to give seaplanes right of way over boats on Lake Union for the first time ever.

The Coast Guard rules that place seaplanes dead last in rights of way are reinforced by the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Right of Way Rules: Water Operations” in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (sec. 91.115), which require: “Each person operating an aircraft on the water shall, insofar as possible, keep clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation, and shall give way to any vessel or other aircraft that is given the right-of-way by any rule of this section” and one such rule is section (d): “Overtaking. Each aircraft or vessel that is being overtaken has the right-of-way, and the one overtaking shall alter course to keep well clear.”

In short, federal maritime and aviation laws require seaplanes to keep clear of and avoid impeding ALL other vessel categories—power-driven vessels, sailing vessels, and manually powered vessels. It is the most far-reaching burden for any category of vessel. Even powered vessels (motorboats, dinner rafts, etc.) are not required to “keep well clear” of seaplanes or “avoid impeding their navigation.” A seaplane in flight is even required to give way to a seaplane that is afloat and hence is classified as a marine vessel.

Given lowest priority by these marine and aviation rules, what are seaplanes to do when (increasingly) their desire to take off or land encounters a Lake Union covered with boats, all of which have right of way privileges over seaplanes? The only real and safe option is not to try. The seaplane can delay or cancel its takeoff. It can delay its landing, or land elsewhere. There is no right of a seaplane to land on Lake Union when the lake is congested with other users whose rights are prior to that of the seaplane.

On most of Lake Union (except in a tightly regulated 40,000 square foot east-west speed test area at the north end) and the rest of the Ship Canal, the Seattle Harbor Code establishes for vessels a speed limit of 7 knots/nautical mph. However (and contrary to the City-community-seaplane operators’ 1989 agreement), seaplanes are exempted from this speed limit except within 200 yards of the shoreline or a dock.

Seaplanes taking off or landing can move at 20 to 40 knots/nautical mph, speeds at which they can injure or kill anyone who is in a boat or otherwise in or on the water. As takeoff begins, the nose rises and can completely block the pilot’s view ahead. Boats of various kinds can quickly and unexpectedly cross the path of the seaplane as it takes off or lands. Even at slower speeds, seaplanes are powered only by their propeller which can be a source of danger to those nearby. This is not even to mention the high noise and air pollution from these planes, most of which are quite old.

Collisions between seaplanes and boats are infrequent but often fatal. Records before 1983 are fragmentary, but in New York state alone they include a 1967 fatality on a boat hit by a landing seaplane, and a 1976 “hit and fly” incident in which three on a moored boat were injured by a seaplane on takeoff. According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in the period from 1983 to 1995 there were three collisions of seaplanes with boats, with three fatalities—all of them in the boats.

The frequency of boat-seaplane collisions may be increasing. In 1999, a seaplane that was landing in Vancouver Harbor’s runway hit a motor boat, injuring the boat operator and passenger. In 2012 in Florida there were no injuries when a motor boat was hit by a landing seaplane. And in a 2013 in Alaska a seaplane that was taking off collided with a fishing boat, injuring one on the fishing boat and two on the seaplane. Few near-collisions are reported to the authorities, in part because it is difficult for the boaters to see the perpetrator’s fuselage number.

There is no way of getting around it: the buoys on Lake Union are being used to let seaplanes off from their legal burden in marine and aviation law to “keep well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation.” It is a step toward the situation in a few U.S. locations (e.g. Manhasset Bay, NY and two lakes in Anchorage, Alaska), where boats have been excluded from seaplane areas, and seaplanes have been granted the right of way over all other vessels.

Lake Union’s proprietor, the state Department of Natural Resources has the legal power to protect the lake’s diversity of uses, but is allowing itself to be used by the one user group (seaplanes) with the least legal priority, to leapfrog itself over others’ stronger rights to the lake and essentially privatize it, and without paying DNR for the privilege.

Although U.S. federal law sharply limits state and local regulation of aviation, the federal courts (in the words of an important U.S. Supreme Court case) have recognized that an “airport proprietor” has the “right to control the use of the airport” and is thus “exempted from judicially declared federal pre-emption.”

As the proprietors of public lakes and waterways, most states place at least some restrictions on seaplanes, unlike Washington. For example, Colorado and New Jersey entirely prohibit seaplanes from public lakes and waterways, and Ohio and New York prohibit seaplanes on most of them. DNR manages (on behalf of Washington state) most of the state’s rivers and lakes, but has not chosen to impose any limits on seaplane use, including on Lake Union.

Because of DNR’s passivity, the industry group International Air Transport Association (IATA) has designated Lake Union as an international airport (it is on aviation maps with the abbreviation LKE). DNR could regulate or charge fees for the ever-increasing seaplane traffic that is becoming a barrier to navigation, recreation, peace and quiet, and the beauty of the lake. Instead, DNR is the willing collaborator in dangerously intensifying seaplane traffic at the expense of all other uses, and without charge.

DNR implausibly claims that the licensed buoys would be a “non-exclusive use.” But anchored in place, the buoys will be a major barrier to navigation, especially for sail-powered craft whose maneuverability is greatly constrained by the need to give buoys a wide berth. The buoys would be lit day and night, with pilots able remotely to cause additional lights on the buoys to flash on and off when a seaplane is about to land or take off.

In Feb. 2016, DNR posted on its web site a brief summary of the City application and of the (mostly negative) public comment it had received. An advocate for the buoys wrote ECC: “Lake Union is a public waterway, and thus open to both public and commercial uses. Public users include sailboats, motorboats, kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, sail boards, dinner rafts, swimmers and the occasional private seaplane. Commercial users include large ocean going vessel transit for maintenance work, seaplanes, yacht dealers, Argosy, Electric Boat Company, the Center for Wooden Boats, Ride the Ducks, rowing clubs and several kayak rental companies. It is this wide, and growing, range of users and usages that has driven the need for increased safety measures. I hate to see any structures marring the beauty of Lake Union, but the simple fact is that safety measures, such as speed limits, a designated zone for testing and demonstrating yachts for sale, and now the buoys designating the seaplane landing zone, are important tools to help ensure Lake Union continues to be safely used by all.”

An opponent of the lighted buoys wrote to DNR with a very different perspective: “When we sail on the lake our boom hangs out over the edge of the boat and is at an average height of 2-4 feet off the water. A large buoy such as the one in the proposal, USCG 4CFR Buoy, is 4-5 feet tall and will severely impede our navigation of the lake. With a sailboat we will not be able to easily move out of the way of oncoming float planes as expected by the installation of the buoys. On an aesthetic level we are upset by the degradation of the beauty of the lake by large permanent lighted and flashing buoys used to demarcate the landing strip of Kenmore Air. We are most upset that the City would even consider taking a public space such as Lake Union and letting a commercial enterprise encroach on the public’s use and enjoyment of their treasured and unique public space.”

Another anti-letter to DNR added that navigation rules and law “specifically place seaplanes at the very bottom of the right of way hierarchy for good reason and Seattle should not be…rewriting the inland rules for right of way. … Lake Union is THE key access point for on the water recreational activities for thousands of residents annually, and this should not be so readily dismissed. It is a safe, proximate venue for inexperienced people wishing to try numerous activities from kayaking to sailing. … My fear is that, as a result of the placement of these buoys, the safety of sailors and pilots/passengers would be deemed compromised enough that eventually sailing will be deemed in conflict with the seaplane lane, and banned on the lake, as it was in Victoria Harbor in Victoria, B.C.”

DNR never posted the original application, the revised application, its own analysis of the revised application, a summary of public comment received since Feb. 2016, or the actual buoy license contract as it was approved in March 2018 for a one-summer trial. The Eastlake Community Council had to obtain these documents through the state’s Public Records Act, and for public use (whatever the views of the user), ECC has posted them on its web site at

The City of Seattle filed the 2014 application with the state Department of Natural Resources without public meetings or any real outreach, and continued this omission through all six of the permit approvals by different agencies including the final one by DNR in March 2018. DNR should have required the City of Seattle as applicant to do outreach and hold public meetings; and DNR should have conducted a public hearing on the proposal.

Now that it has approved the summer 2018 and 2019 buoy trial, DNR acknowledges that it should require the City to evaluate the experience. However, DNR is not asking the public for suggestions on what kinds of evaluation it should require of the City, or even notifying the public about this opportunity.

Urgently, please write to DNR and the City with your suggestions for the kinds of information-that the City should collect for its evaluation; and once the buoys are installed, please record and submit your own observations of their impacts (for contact info, see below).

Before it even considers applying for one or more additional years of the buoys, the City of Seattle should reconvene the Lake Union Seaplane Committee and resume reaching out to the public and enabling comments such as by the phone line that the 1989 Seaplane agreement committed the City to maintain.

Most of Lake Union is submerged public land that should be managed in the public interest. That end can be achieved only if the state Department of Natural Resources and the City of Seattle provide the public, as so far they have not, current information in a timely way and if they invite, facilitate, and heed public comment.

Kenmore Air should reduce its Lake Union operations, moving more to its base on Lake Washington, and to a new base on the downtown waterfront. In 1997-8, the company submitted a City land use application and obtained a federal permit for seaplane service from Elliott Bay on the downtown Seattle waterfront. However, Kenmore Air never followed through on these plans.

If safety on the lake is paramount, the seaplane industry should eliminate or reduce its Lake Union operations on summer weekends when recreational activities are at their height. They have long suspended their Lake Union flights on Tuesday evenings from May to September to accommodate the Duck Dodge, a popular sailing competition. Seaplanes should remain on Lake Union, but probably not in the current numbers and certainly not in increased numbers.

Seaplanes should remain on Lake Union, but this industry has outgrown the lake where it began. Seaplane traffic Lake Union is probably not sustainable or safe in the current numbers and certainly not in the increased numbers that are in store. The lake is small and heavily used by a wide variety of boats, all which (so far) have the right of way over seaplanes, which are endangering them.

Yet by placing in the middle of Lake Union lighted buoys that are controlled by the seaplane operators, DNR is harming the lakescape and undermining the much stronger rights of other users. Only an eruption of public concern can reverse the seaplane industry’s capture of city and state government agencies, and keep Lake Union open and safe for all.

How to contact public officials. Whatever your views, it is important to communicate them to public officials. Contacts for the Mayor and City Council are below. Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz can be reached at, or by U.S. mail c/o the Washington Department of Natural Resources, mail stop 47000, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia, WA 98504, with a copy also to local DNR manager Vivian Roach,, 950 Farman Avenue North, Enumclaw, WA 98022-9282; (253) 341-7564.

Mayor Jenny Durkan accepts comments from the public by e-mail: You can also reach her by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 7th floor, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749, or by fax at 206-684-5360. The Mayor’s reception phone is 206-684-4000, where you can also leave a voice mail afterhours and on weekends.

Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a group e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). It is preferable to include your street address. The City Council e-mail addresses and voice mail numbers for the five continuing members are as follows; contact info for the newly elected members will be provided when available:

• (206) 684-8803
• (206) 684-8016
• (206) 684-8805
• (206) 684-8806
• (206) 684-8802

You can also reach the City Councilmembers by letter (again, preferably one for each, not to all as a group) at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Be sure to include your street address. Please share with ECC your message and any reply, to, or c/o ECC at 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle 98102-3278.

ECC welcomes comments and suggestions. Regarding any of the above, the Eastlake Community Council welcomes at any comments, corrections, questions, or suggested documents or web links to be added to this web page.