Pioneer Square merchant blames tunnel for rat increase

SEATTLE -- Rat infestations are nothing new for a big city, but merchants in Pioneer Square say their traps are filling up faster than ever before.

Some business owners point to the nearby tunnel project, and blame Bertha for all the vermin.

"We used to not see any for years and now we're seeing them every day," said Michael Petrone, owner of the J & M caf.

Petrone walked through the cellar space beneath the bar and restaurant, tracing a similar path to what people walk while doing Seattle's underground tour. Along the way, he pointed out the problems.

"There's a rat trap right there," he said.

Mice and rats are common pests in cities, but Petrone said the swarms started descending shortly after Bertha began digging the deep bore tunnel as part of the Viaduct replacement project.

"I've been here in this building for about five years. I haven't seen a rat in this basement for four and a half years, until the digging," Petrone said. "It's shaking them up."

Even now with Bertha stalled, Petrone believes the rescue pit being drilled to retrieve the broken machinery still has the rodents on the run. In anticipation of this, Seattle Tunnel Partners subcontracted a pest control company to try and keep the rats at bay.

"Whoever is supposed to be working with the seawall, the tunnel, I don't feel they are doing enough," Petrone said.

Understanding the scope of the cellar rat problem is further complicated by the fact that the city doesn't actually track the spread of these pests.

Neighboring businesses in Pioneer Square said they spent thousands of dollars on exterminators this year. They also routinely patch holes and cracks vermin use to creep inside.

However, no one reports seeing rats inside the restaurants - just in the historic cellars below.

Rats carry disease, but health officials said it's been decades since anyone reported an infection from rodents anywhere in King County.