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Originally published October 19, 2012 at 4:02 PM | Page modified October 19, 2012 at 4:47 PM

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Op-ed: Save our seawall, approve Seattle Proposition 1

We cannot bury our heads in the sand any longer and continue to put off the inevitable, writes guest columnist Robert W. Davidson.

Special to The Times

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WHILE the nation zeros in on the presidential election, we in Seattle have our own big decision to make on Nov. 6. The races for president and governor top the ballot, but at the bottom sits a critical issue for our city: Proposition 1, the measure to rebuild the waterfront’s badly deteriorated seawall.

Experts say the seawall has a 1-in-10 chance of failure from an earthquake in the next 10 years. Even a large storm or tidal forces could lead to its failure.

The fact is we are vulnerable and at risk for catastrophic failure of the seawall and we need to do something about it. We cannot bury our heads in the sand any longer and continue to put off the inevitable. The seawall must be replaced and now is the time to act.

I was recently interviewed on the seawall issue by a reporter who asked, “Why should the entire city worry about the waterfront seawall failing?”

The greatest threat from the seawall’s failure is to the businesses adjacent to it, along with the millions of people who live, visit, work or play on the waterfront. But the seawall’s importance reaches far beyond its geographic boundaries, assuring not only the vitality of the waterfront, but the city and region as well. We all own the waterfront and we simply can’t afford to let it fail.

Here’s why: Key city utilities run through the waterfront. Critical transportation connections for the Port of Seattle and much of our industrial core depend upon the seawall to keep those links working.

Washington state ferries move tens of thousands of commuters and tourists through the waterfront each and every day, and their safety depends upon the seawall.

Highway 99 and Alaskan Way carry huge volumes of cars and trucks north and south, and they are dependent upon the seawall. Local sports fans getting to and from the Sodo arenas and multigenerational families choosing to take a stroll along Elliott Bay on a Sunday afternoon are dependent on a secure seawall.

Replacement of the seawall will also include some important ecological enhancements, and we at the Seattle Aquarium have a personal stake in those. It is our mission to inform and inspire students and visitors to take action to preserve the health of our marine environment.

The seawall project includes many innovative measures that will provide habitat restoration with the goal of improving the salmon-migration corridor. Field work has been conducted with the University of Washington since 2008 to investigate opportunities to enhance the marine habitat surrounding the seawall. Replacement of the seawall provides a unique opportunity to restore the shoreline ecosystem.

Parts of the seawall are now 100 years old. Visionary leaders and citizens knew that it was worth the investment then and that is even more true today.

Please take special care to work all the way through your ballot to the very end where you will find Proposition 1. Then vote yes to save our seawall.

Robert W. Davidson is president and chief executive of the Seattle Aquarium. He has served for the past several years on the Central Waterfront Committee and the Seawall Stakeholders Committee.


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