The City of Seattle is pursuing penalties against builders of the Alaskan Way tunnel, set to replace the viaduct, for a variety of incidents over the past few months, sources tell KING 5. One of those situations led to "thousands of gallons" of sewage to overflow into Elliott Bay.
Washington's Department of Ecology sent a Recommendation for Enforcement Action to Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) last week. The discovery was made by Seattle Public Utility cameras in November, which found piles of "fly ash, cement and water" in a storm sewer that runs into the bay.
The mixture is called Controlled Density Fill (CDF) and, according to STP, it was being used to seal four surface drains.
"There was quite a large release," said Larry Altos from the Department of Ecology. "We are hoping to find out how much was released, whether this is an ongoing problem and whether the problem has been fixed."
City sources said Tuesday there have been four environmental incidents since November. The most serious happened on February 1, when dirt and debris from the site clogged a sewer line, forcing thousands of gallons of raw sewage to spill into Elliott Bay.
On February 15, a crew drilled through a sewer pipe and promptly filled it with CDF. KING 5 has learned only quick action by the city kept sewage from getting into the bay again. Just last week, a citizen reported the site was violating erosion control standards.
"I wouldn't characterize it as negligence," explained STP Project Manager Chris Dixon. "I think it's honest mistakes working in a tight site."
Referencing the incident in November, Dixon said, "There's a step in the procedure that you can use to keep it from happening. Unfortunately, that wasn't followed."
Dixon said in the wake of all four situations, staff and workers were being reminded of the importance of environmental safety. The company has cleaned and fixed all the pipes at no extra cost to taxpayers, Dixon said.
But the Washington Department of Transportation, which sources say could also be penalized for the accidents, did not rule out mistakes could happen again.
"What I will say," explained WSDOT project manager Linea Laird, "is that the same event is not going to happen again."