SEATTLE — Mayor Mike McGinn announced Tuesday that, with money now in hand, construction to replace the aging seawall in Elliott Bay will begin in September and continue for three years.
The replacement will be finished by 2016 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is scheduled to come down. The seawall project has been one of the highest priorities for the mayor since taking office.
“A really big ‘thank you’ to the voters of Seattle for their overwhelming support of this in the last (Nov. 6) election. And that means we’re ready to go,” McGinn said at a news conference.
The seawall “doesn`t just protect the property here,” he said. “These are essential transportation arteries, our utility corridors run here. In fact, I think you saw in Hurricane Sandy, how an entire region could be hurt if you had damage right at the waterfront.”
But construction officials warned that tearing up the waterfront, especially while work is being done on the viaduct, will be messy.
“We still are begging and asking for your forbearance, your patience, your understanding,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Peter Hahn said. “We will try to do our very best to mitigate everything that we can.”
Waterfront businesses argue their patience can go only so far. They worry that there will construction will only be suspended for three months a year — June, July and August.
“Summer starts in June and ends at the end of September,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants.
He said that an extra month of construction downtime is key.
Donegan said that “$70 million in sales happens down here on the waterfront. This is a little economic engine. We can`t afford to lose that in this economy. And we think we can make it work if we aren`t disturbed in the summer.”
“How long is summer, right? That`s the question,” McGinn said when asked about the businesses’ concerns. “The more we have to shut down, the longer it might take to do it, and that might mean more seasons of construction.”
“The busy season is how we have always defined it,” Donegan said. “They have promised they would not disturb the busy season.”
“Somebody else is going to have to do the forensic examination of what the promise was,” McGinn said. “I know the voters want us to build a seawall and they expect us to spend their money wisely and effectively and that we need to be accommodating of the businesses, but we also need to recognize the need to complete the seawall.”
The president of Ivar’s, who strongly supported the seawall measure, said a big help would be if the city would provide some mitigation money to compensate waterfront businesses for the disruption and loss of income. But, so far there are no funds in the budget for that.