Lake Union seaplanes take center stage as safety concerns arise

SEATTLE -- Lake Union is one of four small lakes entirely in Seattle city limits, but the 580-acre body of water is by far the busiest.

It's a popular spot for motorized boats, sailboats, paddleboards, kayaks, canoes and more.

But Lake Union is also an airport of sorts, with Kenmore Air operating about 90 seaplane flights a day on its busiest days from May through September.

"We're just looking for a safer way to use the lake with all the other lake users," said Kenmore Air President Todd Banks.

That's why Kenmore Air sent a letter to the city's Harbor Patrol chief in August, asking for assistance to prevent clashes between the aquatic runway and floating parties.

The increase in recreational activities on the lake has forced Kenmore to declare a no-fly zone on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons during busy season, diverting flights to the north end of Lake Washington.

Kenmore's request for help from Harbor Patrol became the recent subject of a Wallingford Neighborhood Association meeting, and residents have sent their own letter in an effort to make sure that access to the lake isn't restricted because of seaplanes.

"I just don't think it's right for a private business to divide the lake in two, especially with the runway in the middle of the lake," said Wallingford resident Tung Le.

Kenmore Air says they aren't looking to expand air service, but the Seaplane Environmental Coalition says Kenmore's letter says it all: If Harbor Patrol cannot effectively police the current buoy system, Kenmore wants to discuss other action, including a demarcated landing zone area of the lake exclusively for seaplane use.

Kenmore Air says that's a big if, and in the end they just want to be good neighbors.

"Let's get together and talk about the facts," Banks said. "Communication goes a long way."