Vote On Wright May Come Quick

Jun. 13--The Dallas City Council could vote as early as Wednesday on a proposal to lift controversial flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field, the same day Mayor Laura Miller is slated to unveil the compromise with Fort Worth.

But while some of her colleagues say they'd welcome a quick vote following Wednesday's scheduled Wright amendment news conference, others say it's far too soon -- and that the weeks of negotiation between the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth and the cities' home airlines have left far too many people in the dark.

"That's asking for an awful lot of work to be done on a huge issue in the next 48 hours," council member Gary Griffith said Monday.

For Ms. Miller, the last several days have been all Wright, all the time. She announced Wednesday's news conference on Friday, after deliberating with Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief for almost five hours.

The day before, she'd briefed nearly all of her council colleagues on the general outline of their agreement -- which city officials say is a multiyear phaseout of the Wright law, coupled with a reduction in Love Field's gates to limit growth at the inner-city airport.

And she spent most of the weekend back on the phone with Mr. Moncrief, before calling City Manager Mary Suhm on Sunday to place a vote on a Wright resolution on Wednesday's council agenda.

Ms. Miller's office says the vote is on the agenda as a formality. Like Wednesday's news conference, it will only happen if the two mayors reach a consensus on the 1979 Wright amendment, which limits most commercial service from Love to a nine-state region.

Ms. Miller declined Monday evening to comment on any Wright amendment negotiations and didn't answer questions about whether there will be a council vote on Wednesday.

She wrote by e-mail that she and Mr. Moncrief were "continuing to make progress."

But several council members, officials from Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas' Southwest Airlines, and grass-roots groups on both sides of the repeal debate say they don't want to be rushed into a vote, particularly when they're still unclear on the terms of an alleged agreement.

On Friday, Dallas officials -- who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the negotiations -- said the resolution Ms. Miller briefed them on calls for an eventual repeal of the Wright law, as well as pressuring American Airlines to give up its gates at Love Field.

Phasing out limits

The officials said the agreement would recommend phasing out the flight restrictions over nine years, reducing the immediate impact on American's operation at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. And it would call for capping the number of gates at Love at 20 and limiting Southwest to between 15 and 18 gates. Remaining gates above the 20-gate limit would be closed permanently or demolished to allay fears about noise and traffic congestion from increased flights.

The compromise would also allow immediate through-ticketing, permitting passengers to fly anywhere in the U.S. on a single ticket if they stop in a state within the Wright perimeter.

Ms. Miller, who said Friday that there was no formal deal and that negotiations were still fluid, spent Monday in and out of meetings with Mr. Moncrief, American's chief executive Gerard Arpey, and top officials from Southwest. She also met with former City Council member Lori Palmer, who is representing Love Field-area neighborhoods.

A Republican aide on Capitol Hill said Reps. Michael Burgess of Flower Mound and Kay Granger of Fort Worth also sat in on some of the meetings.

Mr. Moncrief could not be reached for comment Monday. But officials in the Dallas mayor's office said negotiations would continue today, the day before Ms. Miller's anticipated announcement at noon at D/FW Airport's Grand Hyatt hotel.

In March, the North Texas congressional delegation asked the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to craft a local solution to the flight restrictions.

Dallas' deadline for reaching a compromise is Wednesday. Fort Worth's is Aug. 1. And any compromise that the two cities reach isn't necessarily binding. The airlines could continue their appeals in Congress regardless.

American Airlines spokesman Roger Frizzell said that voting Wednesday would be premature and that the council hasn't sought any input -- whether from concerned citizens or cities around the state. American feels decisions are being rushed, he said.

"What is the urgency? Why is this being rushed through this process?" he asked. "We have to ... make sure no stones go unturned."

Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart said the only way Southwest will feel comfortable with a council vote on Wednesday is if the Wright amendment's repeal is immediate, and Southwest gets to keep most of its gates.

"Tell me the good news, and we can go ahead and vote," Mr. Stewart said. "But if you tell us something ridiculous. ... Right now, there's been a lot of discussion, a lot of rumors. But no one knows the exact details on the who, the what, the why."

For their part, Dallas City Council members appeared divided on whether they would be ready to vote for a Wright resolution by Wednesday.

Some, like Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia and council member Ed Oakley, said that if the resolution was the same as outlined by Ms. Miller on Thursday, they'll be ready.

"If it's agreeable to both sides, I'll be supporting it," Dr. Garcia said.

Others -- like Mr. Griffith, Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, and council member Ron Natinsky -- said they either weren't comfortable with the level of public input or thought a Wednesday vote would be premature.

"We're raising the specter that we might vote on this without letting the public have some discussion on this," Mr. Hill said, talking heatedly with several of his colleagues after a Monday committee meeting. "I've received so many e-mails. We haven't talked to the citizens about this."

No warning

While some council members said they expected to see the vote on Wednesday's agenda, several others said they were given no warning. And nearly all of them still seemed confused about the status of the mayor's negotiations and about whether the terms had changed since their Thursday briefing.

They aren't the only ones. Both the pro-repeal Friends of Love Field and the Wright-friendly (and American Airlines-funded) Stop-and-Think have called on the mayors to allow more public comment on the flight restrictions.

As of Monday, a final version of the council-commissioned study on the effects of lifting the Wright amendment had not been released publicly. Council members who saw the document said it jibed with media reports Friday on the details of the mayors' resolution -- citing a section on "cutting the gates down to 20." But they also said consultants from DMJM Aviation, the firm that designed Love Field's five-year-old master plan and was commissioned for the $150,000 update, wouldn't let them keep the report.

"I asked for it, and they wouldn't give it to me," council member Mitchell Rasansky said.

Sources close to the negotiations say that the mayors grew closer to a resolution over the weekend and that they were a few small details away from a compromise.

It's a plan that has clearly evolved. One high-ranking Dallas official said Monday that at one point, the mayors were considering a resolution that would call for immediately lifting flight restrictions from Love to some of Southwest's top airports, including Las Vegas; Phoenix; Nashville, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla. That's no longer being discussed.

And some council members, including Mr. Oakley, still are demanding that Fort Worth forgo passenger service at its smaller airports -- including Alliance and Meacham -- as part of any compromise. A spokesman for Ross Perot Jr.'s Hillwood Properties, which developed Alliance Airport, declined to comment on the negotiations.

E-mail eramshaw@dallasnews.com

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