Seattle tunnel critic files lawsuit to stop Bertha repairs
SEATTLE - A longtime opponent of the Seattle waterfront tunnel project has filed a lawsuit to stop repairs on "Bertha."
Elizabeth Campbell says plans to dig a hole to repair the tunnel drill amount to a whole new project.
"We feel that this project was not covered by the prior environmental review," Campbell tells KOMO Newsradio.
Bertha has been stalled underground since last December, due to damaged seals that protect the drill's main bearing. Contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners proposes to dig a 100 foot deep, 80 foot wide shaft to reach the drill and make repairs.
Campbell, who has previously mounted initiative drives against the project, has filed a suit in federal court, calling for a new environmental review. She believes the repair dig creates a new set of environmental hazards.
"They're going to do a lot of what they call 'de-watering,'" Campbell says. "That's an extensive amount of water that has to be treated. We really don't know what they have planned for that."
But Laura Newborn, media relations manager with the state Department of Transportation, responds: "In the dewatering that was previously conducted, STP (Seattle Tunnel Partners) did extensive, daily testing. Even when water readings were in safe limits, the water was taken to a King Co treatment plant for processing. There was no pollution of the bay."
Campbell says she's also concerned about the new dig's impact on nearby structures. "It could destabilize some of the buildings in Pioneer Square," she says. "None of that was addressed in the prior environmental review."
The suit filed March 27 in U.S. District Court seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the repair work until a new environmental review is completed. The suit names as defendants Seattle Tunnel Partners, the city of Seattle, the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Campbell remains opposed to the tunnel, but says she no longer seeks to stop the project altogether.
"It's breathtaking the size of it, and I just don't see that the project is going to end," she says. "At the same time, you need to keep making sure that it's safe, that it's environmentally friendly, and that the public's money is being spent well."
Former Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, a tunnel supporter, allows that Campbell raises legitimate questions about the impact of the repair project, but he tells KOMO Newsradio, "I'm not sure it warrants a full-bore new environmental review process."
Campbell believes a federal judge will address the issue of a preliminary injunction within a few weeks.