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Originally published May 7, 2013 at 8:13 PM | Page modified May 8, 2013 at 7:28 PM

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Pier merchants appeal seawall project’s environmental review

Businesses of Seattle’s historic waterfront piers are challenging the environmental review of the planned $335 million seawall project, saying the city isn’t doing enough to ensure their businesses will survive four years of construction.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Businesses on Seattle’s historic waterfront piers are challenging the final environmental assessment of the planned $335 million seawall project, saying the city isn’t doing enough to ensure they will survive four years of construction.

The Seattle Historic Waterfront Association filed a legal appeal, saying the environmental review for the seawall project wasn’t adequate and the city shouldn’t have issued construction permits.

The appeal, filed last week, says the city hasn’t provided any specific plans to address the potential loss of visitors, parking along the waterfront or disruption from rerouted traffic and construction. The appeal says the city hasn’t even secured permission from the pier owners for seawall work, which will require access to the piers.

A spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn said the city has taken the “extraordinary step” of agreeing not to work on the seawall from June to August to protect the busy summer tourist season for the waterfront businesses.

Additionally, the city included numerous mitigation efforts, including temporary access for pedestrians, temporary parking and a public-information campaign to inform visitors about access to the waterfront during construction, said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for McGinn.

“We are working hard to ensure that the seawall is reconstructed so that businesses may exist and thrive on our waterfront well into the future,” Pickus said.

Business owners say that none of the city’s proposed mitigation measures are backed up with a budget, a timeline or description of how they will be accomplished.

And, they say, the city already reneged on the central promise to prohibit construction in summer. It recently issued a permit to Puget Sound Energy to relocate high-pressure gas lines near the Highway 99 viaduct, a project that likely will mean more torn-up streets and traffic disruptions from June through August this year.

“There are 49 mitigation measures to protect salmon in the final EIS (environmental-impact statement). There’s nothing like that for people,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s, whose flagship restaurant is on Pier 54, one of the historic piers.

Traffic already has been snarled on the waterfront as the state prepares to start drilling the deep-bore tunnel in Sodo to replace the viaduct.

With about 4 million visitors each year, the waterfront is a top tourist destination in the city. But reconstruction of the seawall, scheduled to begin in September and last through 2016, will tear up sidewalks along Alaskan Way, funnel traffic from four to two lanes on a temporary road under the viaduct, reroute ferry traffic and eliminate parking.

Kevin Clark, president and CEO of Argosy Cruises, said about 200,000 passengers depart on his ships on Elliott Bay between September and May, when the seawall will be under construction.

“If (the city) puts a hole between me and Alaskan Way, and doesn’t provide parking, and does that for nine months every year for the next three years, I’m toast,” Clark said.

Leslie Smith, executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, said the construction of the deep-bore tunnel to replace the viaduct already has significantly disrupted traffic and increased congestion in that neighborhood.

Pioneer Square is not a party to the legal appeal of the seawall project, but she said the final environmental review for the seawall “really understated” the impact the project would have on Pioneer Square.

She worries that tech businesses that have moved into upper floors of the district’s historic buildings will move out with four more years of construction disruptions.

“The EIS essentially negated the traffic gridlock and congestion we’re already experiencing. It could have a big impact on our ability to retain businesses.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $290 million bond measure in November to rebuild the aging seawall, which was weakened by the Nisqually earthquake and which engineers said might collapse in another major earthquake. Additional money is being paid by the city and county.

But the city planning for the seawall during the past three years has been dogged by missteps. The city is on its third seawall project manager and second design firm. Business leaders say the new team the city Transportation Department has assembled is a strong one but is just getting up to speed.

Bob Davidson, president and CEO of the Seattle Aquarium, said he doesn’t know how the city will get access for the approximately 50,000 children who arrive on school buses each year, or what the impacts of the work might be on the animals.

The aquarium also is not part of the legal challenge because it is owned by the city. But Davidson said he and his board of directors share the concerns of other waterfront businesses.

“There is nothing specific in the EIS that presents a solution for access — either shuttle buses or proximate parking, or the health and safety of our animal collection.”

With construction scheduled to start in September, Davidson said, “We’re running out of time to plan in any reasonable way.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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