This week workers hope to complete the 13-mile tunnel that is part of the new, nearly $2 billion Brightwater sewage treatment plant. The tunnel will house sewage lines coming to the plant and a line that carries treated water to the Puget Sound.
But the KING 5 Investigators have found something that likely won't be in the press release.
They’ve discovered that millions of dollars in material purchased for the project might as well go down the sewer pipe.
King County paid $2.4 million for concrete tunnel liners that the project manager acknowledges are no longer needed for the job. The liners are useless after an unexpected change in the project’s plans last year.
“The challenge for us has been the completion of the central tunnel. That has delayed us a bit," said Gunars Sreibers, Brightwater’s project manager.
How did it happen?
Deep underground in the central part of the tunnel, one of the machines boring the tunnel got stuck in the dirt and rock.
"It was to the point where the contractor really had to stop mining," said Sreibers.
With one tunneling machine stuck, King County decided to use one of the job's other tunneling machines to complete the final two mile section.
There was one problem though. That machine bores a tunnel nearly a foot-and-a-half smaller in diameter than the one it replaced. That means the custom-made concrete tunnel liners won't fit in the smaller tunnel and aren't usable for any other type of project.
The liners that were once part of the county's grand sewer plan are going down the drain themselves, in a manner of speaking.
Over the next few weeks heavy machinery is scrapping or recycling nearly two miles of tunnel liner.
Project managers call it a small cost compared to other more expensive solutions to fixing the stuck tunneling machine.
“I think overall when you look at large projects of this complexity and scope I think this project has gone very well," said Sreibers.
"I'm shocked, but I'm not surprised,” said former State Rep. Toby Nixon. “It's just another of many examples where Brightwater has been a wasteful project.”
Nixon is a long-time critic of the cost and complexity of the Brightwater plant. He says the county is to blame for this and other costly expenses because it didn't comprehend the tunnel route's soil conditions.
"I don't think they understood what the problems were going to be before they got started,” said Nixon. “That's evidenced by the fact they had multiple cave-ins where people's homes and businesses have been damaged by the tunneling underneath"
Footing the bill
So who pays for the $2.4 million in concrete? It may be ratepayers. That's being decided in a hard fought lawsuit between the contractor and King County. The tunnel liners are part of $200 million in disputed costs between the contractor, Vinci Parsons Frontier-Kemper, and the county.
The stakes are high for ratepayers who will have to wait until the sun sets on the legal fight to see how it will affect their monthly bill.
Brightwater will start processing sewage well before the main tunnel is fully completed. A public grand opening is scheduled for September. The main tunnel should be operational by the middle of next year, which is one year behind schedule.