Pioneer Square business owner angry over late notification of ground settling

SEATTLE -- The state has given a tunnel contractor permission to resume digging a pit to try to reach Bertha, the broken boring machine, so that it can be fixed and started up again.

That work had stopped after engineers learned the soil in the area was settling.

The Washington Department of Transportation said Tuesday the soil has stabilized and they feel it’s safe enough to resume excavating Bertha on Thursday.

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But some business owners are angry that transportation officials did not alert them of the soil issue sooner, saying it could have prevented thousands of dollars in losses.

“I didn’t hear about the settlement issue until last Thursday or Friday,” said Phil Bevins, owner of Arundel Books.

He only found out on Tuesday that WSDOT knew the soil was settling in late November.

“I had to hear about it from you. That frosts me, that is the absolute limit,” Bevins said.

He went next door to spread the word, saying that his business and others could have moved items out of the way before water started leaking into their stores.

Bevins believes the tunneling project is the reason the soil is settling. He says his store has been flooded in the past few months.

“To believe it’s not connected, it’s just wishful thinking,” Bevins said.

He’s already tossed out hundreds of damaged books because of mold. He says he has no faith in WSDOT despite the agency assuring businesses that there is no immediate danger.

“There is no indication that it’s structural damage, and that the ones (cracks) that have been identified has been very cosmetic,” Todd Trepanier of WSDOT said.

“I don’t know where their offices are, but they are clearly just sitting there,” Bevins said.

To make matters worse, Seattle Public Utilities on Monday confirmed that underground water pipes beneath First Avenue South could be damaged due to soil settlement.

“That’s a huge potential problem, enormous,” Bevins said.

He says with little communication coming from WSDOT, he says he has no choice but to move his business.

“Where are these guys? None of the business owners that I am aware of talked to them,” Bevins said.

WSDOT claims they needed time to survey the damage and on Dec. 5 started notifying businesses in that area to alert them of the soil settling.