Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: Internal SPU Email Details Tunnel Blunders

Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring tunnel blunders, Harrell on Whole Foods, Steinbrueck on Murray, and Kate Martin on "thughood."

By Morning Fizz July 26, 2013

1. In mid-July, we reported that the Washington State Department of Transportation had issued a temporary stop work order on the Seattle Tunnel Project—the group of contractors doing the waterfront tunnel construction —after workers had slammed into a Seattle City Light electrical vault and a Seattle Public Utilities sewer line in late June.

Apparently, the June 24 and 25 STP construction mishaps were simply the latest in a long list of construction blunders. 

According to an SPU email sent to the mayor's staff this week, and obtained by PubliCola, titled "A brief history of Bored Tunnel construction impacts to SPU facilities," STP construction dating back to 2012 and running up through spring of 2013 has caused, among other things: "excessive settlement from dewatering," "red-alert level" water main "leaking," "failure to notify SPU of illicit discharge ... into Elliott Bay," "unusual readings in overflow monitoring system" resulting in a "third discharge violation," and "knock[ing] the the top off of a combined sewer maintenance hole and fail[ure] to notify SPU causing a dry weather overflow."

The email also documents STP's petulant and delinquent responses to warnings. The email notes:

SPU isolates zone and requests replacement, or temporary main, so zone can be re-opened before Safe Have 3 cut & Cap; STP refuses. SPU refuses to send crews out for Safe Haven 3 work until the replacement is complete. STP backs down and constructs a temporary 8” and WSDOT verbally promises to provide a permanent 12-inch replacement after tunneling. ... STP indicates they will not proactively replace the Alaskan Way 12” [water main] from Main to Yesler before tunneling. SPU points out the risk to the Port and requests WSDOT to enforce their contract and WSDOT does so. STP has started construction of the replacement. ... Failure to timely replace temporary sewer constriction in Alaskan Way at King St. ... After a protracted battle starting in August 2012, STP replaces a temporary 12” flex pipe sewer constriction at downstream end of Alaskan Way 21-inch sewer at King Street in March 2013.

There definitely seems to be some Existential angst about the tunnel project.

The final item in SPU's email documents the sewer line collision we wrote about, comically noting "see a pattern here?" and adding details we didn't have about near misses with electrical conductors, sewer backups, and reporting that "Workers are exposed to sewerage and require medical treatment."

With notes about Notices of Violation (NOV), and cynical commentary of STP's "Root Cause Analysis" (which STP was asked to prepare for WSDOT in response to all the problems), SPU concludes its email with a summary of the contentious relationship:

Currently WSDOT has shut down STP’s work on the west side of the north portal pit. WSDOT sounds like they are serious about getting STP in line. SPU, SCL [Seattle City Light] and SDOT are working with WSDOT to respond the STP’s root cause analysis. WSDOT wants the City to be satisfied with STP’s response. Attached is a DRAFT response from SPU to the RCA (XXXX is editing the SPU response as our legal Catcher in the Rye)

I'm not sure I get the Catcher in the Rye reference, but there definitely seems to be some existential angst at City Hall about the tunnel project.

2. As of yesterday, mayoral candidate and city council member Bruce Harrell was the only major mayoral contender who hadn't responded to Monday's PubliCola One Question about the Whole Foods controversy; Mayor Mike McGinn sent a memo to SDOT last week saying the city should turn down Whole Food's request for an alley vacation because the yuppie grocery chain isn't union. (Candidate Peter Steinbrueck responded to our question promptly, trashing the mayor's position as "illegal" and state Sen. Ed Murray finally responded to us on Wednesday by talking about McGinn's divisiveness.)

Yesterday, Harrell told PubliCola that he thinks McGinn is "well within his rights to express our city’s values when the city evaluates what public benefits should be derived from a private development when public assets are sold."

However, he added, "The problem here is that the Mayor has prematurely articulated a concern without any context. There are so many public benefits to be considered during alley vacations such as useful park and open space, street amenities, and improved set back requirements to improve the pedestrian and bicycle experience. ... Arguably, our low income housing needs, our provision of human services and City’s other needs should also be considered.

"How does the compensation practice of a private tenant, in this case Whole Foods, weigh against the other competing public benefits and why should this one issue be the basis for disapproval; particularly when they may be paying a living wage to their employees?" (Whole Foods says it pays an average wage of $16.15 an hour to nonmanagerial workers.) 

"We must look at the entire package of public benefits, not just one component. The Mayor’s recommendation is very shallow in substance and provides a weak argument as to why we should drastically change historic practice.  A good executive would work with the community affected, the developer community, the tenants, and the City Council in order to develop a good set of public benefits and avoid grandstanding for political gain."

3.At a forum held by the International District Rotary Club yesterday afternoon, former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, made the case for himself as the neighborhood candidate in the race (a theme he also hits up in his latest mailer), argued that the city should hire more cops downtown, "particularly during tourist season," and said Mayor Mike McGinn hasn't worked "effectively and respectfully" with the city council.

Regarding the Whole Foods controversy (the first question raised by a member of the audience, which gathered for the Rotary's monthly meeting at the New Hong Kong Restaurant in the ID), Steinbrueck said, "To single out a single business to impose conditions that are social in nature ... is just plain wrong. If it's one business, it could be another, and that would be an arbitrary intervention and abuse of power."

As for his other leading opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray, Steinbrueck joked, "Please ask Senator Murray to get back to the legislature to work on that transportation plan"; the legislature failed this year to pass a transportation package that would have allowed King County to tax itself, forestalling a 17 percent cut to Metro transit service. 

4. There was another mayoral forum yesterday featuring all the candidates (and Erica will have a report on that later today).

Erica didn't tweet this time, but here's a sampling of her insta-analysis from the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce forum in a couple of texts she sent:

Harrell's popular basketball line? As he told PubliCola when he first declared in January: "I do not need to teach another African American boy to play basketball. What I do need is to have an African American teacher who can talk to that kid."


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