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    Political cover? Bertha's contractors hire lobbyist & former deputy mayor

    Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor for Seattle's deep-bore tunnel, has hired a well-known Seattle lobbyist.
    Tim Ceis visits Crosscut

    Tim Ceis visits Crosscut Michele Matassa Flores

    The beleaguered design-build contractor for Seattle's deep bore tunnel project, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), last month quietly retained former Deputy Mayor and tunnel proponent Tim Ceis' consulting firm, Ceis Bayne East Strategic. The firm was hired January 16th in the midst of a major crisis that has enveloped the deep bore tunnel project since early December 2013.

    "Bertha," the world's largest tunnel boring machine (TBM), has been stalled out for two months beneath downtown Seattle as a result of technical problems of unknown scale. Today the Washington State Department of Transportation announced that main bearing seals on the machine had failed, and that investigations by the prime contractor have not determined whether the main bearing itself — the central component of a large-scale TBM — will require extensive, costly repair or total replacement.  

    Either way, the machine is certain to need major structural work in order to resume tunneling, according to sources inside the project.

    STP's retention of Ceis' firm was confirmed by firm principal Emelie East, who declined to characterize what the lobbying shop will do for the tunnel contractor, adding that Ceis is "on point" for handling the client relationship. The firm's website describes its services as implementing "comprehensive strategies employing coordinated messaging, advocacy and tactical partnerships to achieve client objectives."

    Ceis is a longtime local political operative and was closely involved with the project during its inception. He served eight years as Deputy Mayor under former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and also as Chief of Staff to former King County Executive Ron Sims, both of whom were supporters and promoters of the tunnel project. His firm biography cites "replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct" as one of the "Major achievements under his direction."

    Contractor STP has been under fire from several sides as the current crisis has burgeoned. WSDOT has put the firm on watch, sending a letter raising multiple technical and operational concerns and convening outside tunnel experts to provide independent oversight to the contractor's actions. An STP spokesperson declined to comment today, referring all calls back to WSDOT.

    Matt Fikse-Verkerk (Twitter: @mattfikse) covered urban affairs, politics, tech, and business at Crosscut from 2009 to 2014. He lives in Seattle and works for a biotechnology firm in Redmond, WA.

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    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Now we know which PR firm is going to provide all the future "Bertha" copy under Mike Lindblom's byline in the Times.

    This is nothing new for Tim Ceis. His firm began advocating for the STP design/build firm years ago:


    2/11 Update

    For those of you without a Times subscription, Mike Lindblom's byline was used to publish some of the Ceis firm's copy today. It is in a front page story about how the repairs to Bertha will be a monumental undertaking. It contains this passage:

    “A similar incident happened in the early ’90s at the Sarnia rail tunnel, between St. Clair, Ontario, and Port Huron, Mich., where bearing-seal troubles required crews to remove a cutterhead from a machine, made by Lovat of Canada.”

    That's what the Ceis firm is doing: saying “This tunneling is no big deal, they did tunneling in [X] city, and repairs were made there too.”

    It's propaganda 101: use the authoritative voice, employ several screen names to have "a conversation" (e.g., reinforce the same point and dissemble), and claim the problematic issue is routine.


    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 5:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    How can "replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct" be listed as a "major achievement" when the AWV hasn't yet been replaced?

    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 8:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tim Cies is a hack. Not a good choice for STP, but just the latest bad choice by the STP.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    Should have torn down that safety risk that has been damaged by the last earthquake and used as a seawall for the known sea level rise. That would have worked only temporarily but it would give people time to move out of the FLOOD ZONE. I am not a Brain at these things, but tunneling at that depth will result in sea water flooding in the future am I right or wrong? Why, when health and safety is Priority #1 did not our great and unchallengeable Leaders not simply make a larger portion of seattle a walkable, bikeable, green place? Having large parking lots both north and south of seattle and then they could have used mass transit from there or biked or used community type transportation for the disabled. Now Seattle will have a HOLE in the ground. Nice. Who pays for the Big Dig? The guy that needs a new roof on his house is who. We were warned of this happening now it has. The old Gov. is out and is not her problem and is happily retired, She has pleased the Unions. Same stuff happening around the world. Greed and Sustainable Living do not work well together.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    Well you are wrong. But that's ok. There are lots of tunnels under rivers, bays and oceans.From tunnels under the East River, the Hudson, the Bosphorous, Miami's Bay of Biscayne, San Francisco's BART tunnel the Hong Kong harbor, in Korea, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. Hell, there is a tunnel North of here on the what would be Interstate 5 in Canada. (not called that there) It goes under the Frazier river.

    The tunnel segments that are constructed behind the TBM are bolted together with rubber seals between each segment. They also pump grout out through the segment to seal the ring.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    As I recall, you give the appearance of being a knowledgeable and active participant. IF so, how about sharing with those of us who are not how water is kept from breaching the ends of the under-sea tunnels and whether those specific provisions are a part of this specific situation. Thanks.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm semi knowledgeable.

    The ends of the tunnel are above the water level. Unless they aren't. For example Hurricane Sandy flooded the subway tunnels in Lower Manhattan. The same is true for the Hudson River Tunnel. Both were pumped out and operating in days after the hurricane.

    Tunnels are constructed with pumps for water at both ends.

    More dangerous than water in the tunnels is fire. There are almost always huge fire suppression systems built in tunnels today. If you look at the design for the Viaduct tunnel there are tunnel operations buildings at both ends that will hold pumps and fans, cameras and probably space for tow trucks to move any vehicle that breaks down in the tunnel.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 6:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's hardly knowledgeable to pretend, as ACbytesla does, that because most tunnels through varying soil conditions have been dependably constructed, therefore, concerns about water surrounding the bore tunnel can be dismissed casually. Boston's Big Dig is a shallow cut/cover tunnel set on bedrock near historic buildings along the waterfront. The Seattle waterfront soil conditions are watery clay. The weight of the bore tunnel will squash & spread that clay like butter. Underground water will use the bore tunnel shell as a conduit to connect varied level water channels and to further depths than existing. More seawater will be drawn inland and more fresh water will collect around the tunnel. This water will spread, cause siltration and voids that can/will collapse all the way to the surface. Earthquake waves will shake both clay and the tunnel itself in these weak soil conditions, undermining historic and modern building foundations where sudden building collapse (with death toll) is likely. Prissy chearleader ACbytesla is too cowardly, too callous or too stupid to elaborate upon this grevious concern. The Stacked Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall (in the FEIS) is the only sensible tunnel choice.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not even close to an expert Wells. But I'm not pretending. The simple fact of the matter, is that many tunnels have been constructed in much higher groundwater conditions and more difficult ground conditions all around the world.

    Take the Marmaray under the Bosphorous strait. There are two deep bore tunnels which attach to the deepest immersed tunnel on Earth at 196 feet deep. The soils in fact are far worse than in Seattle and it is in the most earthquake prone part of the world. The Karstic Limestone of Kuala Lumpur where the SMART tunnel was recently constructed had over a 100 blowouts and sinkholes during construction. In comparison, the city of Seattle and surround area with the construction of Brightwater, the Sound transit, I-90 tunnels has suffered a total of 3.

    The soil along the waterfront presented some significant challenges for building and creating a safe tunnel. But they are no means unsolvable. Extensive ground improvements were required to make the tunnel feasible. For example, the first 400 feet a buoyancy slab box was created This included 5 foot diameter secant piles that extend at least ten feet below the tunnel as well as a 5 foot thick concrete buoyancy slab above it. This keeps the tunnel and the TBM from floating up and out of alignment. The tunnel is further surrounded both sides by Tangent pile walls parallel the tunnel alignment for 1400,000 ft

    The Secant piles reached depths of up to 138 ft.

    Over 400 jet grout columns with diameters ranging from 7.5 ft to 11.5 ft were used to remediate the heavily debris-laden soft soils within the upper reaches of the tunnel horizon from the excavation portal to the second safe haven, about 450 ft down the tunnel alignment.

    Bored yet Wells..or would you like me to drone on how engineers dealt with the ground conditions of Seattle's waterfront?


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    That Frazier river tunnel always makes me nervous.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 12:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    If that makes you nervous imagine traveling 23 miles under the English channel or the 33.5 miles through Seikan tunnel underneath the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokaido? Or the planned tunnel under China's Bohai bay. That will be 76 miles long.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Big Bertha meet Big Dig. Big Dig meet Big Bertha.

    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Marmaray light rail tunnel is a pair of ~20' diameter tubes. Seattle's 'traffic' tunnel is 58' in diameter. A significant difference in size to actually consider? Immense traffic vibrations vs smoothly rolling LRT? Soil and water channel displacement? The similarly small Link LRT University twin-tube tunnel does run below Portage Bay, but narrowly perpendicular to the lakeshore through relatively stable soils consequently posing less danger to buildings above. "No difference whatsoever" chortles ACbytesla. The imminent danger is to Pioneer District and any vulnerable building foundation above along the entire length of the bore tunnel. In an earthquake, even the bore tunnel through unstable soils could vibrate, swing, sink and rise enough to snap. "Aw, whatever man. Like, let's just do it man, cuz like, we're like bored waiting for our new super waterfront," professionally spurious twits warble.


    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    You're right it is different. But that doesn't make it more vulnerable to earthquake issues. And although I haven't reviewed the specific engineering study for this tunnel, my bet is that a larger tunnel is much less vulnerable to earthquakes than a smaller one.

    BTW. The tunnel doesn't really travel underneath the Pioneer Square buildings but along side them. (With the exception of the Al Bocalino restaurant on Yesler. Over all those buildings have always been the most vulnerable to earthquakes in Seattle due to their construction, and the tunnel doesn't change that.

    Personally, I'm convinced that when and if the tunnel is completed, it will be the safest structure in Seattle.


    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 5:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Soil liquefaction? Water was bubbling up to the surface during the SF earthquake. Below sea level tunnel? No thank you.

    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 7:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    There are lots of tunnels below Sea level. But since you mentioned the SF earthquake. The BART tunnel under the bay did just fine during the worst earthquake in the last hundred years


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    acbytesia, your statement about Bart and the last SF earthquake is meaningless unless the BART tunnel is located in similar soils and geological conditions. Is it?

    Posted Wed, Feb 12, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    I wouldn't say meaningless. Every tunnel has to contend with different geological and hydrological conditions. But that doesn't mean that the tunnels aren't engineered to deal with the differences. As they are in this one and the BART tunnel in SF.

    ***FYI*** The whole world expressed major concerns about the BART tunnel being built in SF's earthquake zone. Many, many, many people fought its construction based on that fear. Not long after it was built, the SF earthquake happened causing damages to countless structures. The Bart tunnel despite all the warnings of the danger, wasn't one of them.


    Posted Thu, Feb 13, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    The BART transbay tunnel was premanufactured in 350' lengths, sunk into a dredged channel, sealed, bolted together, covered. Wikipedia provides this link to artist renderings/photographs of the transbay tube segments. The BART transbay tube is narrowly perpendicular to the shoreline 'unlike' Seattle's deep bore tunnel which runs parallel through unstable soils.



    Posted Thu, Feb 13, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    There is a difference between the immersed BART tunnel and the viaduct replacement tunnel. Every tunneling project is unique. Seattle soils are not as unstable as you make them out to be. They are more so along the shallow part of the tunnel along the waterfront where Bertha is now. That is why in preparation for building the tunnel, significant ground improvement has been done for the last two years.

    However, after the first 2000 feet the soils are glacially compacted and very good substrate to tunnel through and no ground improvement was and is required. It must be kept in mind that this is the reason that 30, 40 story buildings have been able to be constructed on them safely.


    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    I see Tim Ceis as potentially a positive player in this worsening situation. He's far more than a "political operative," though he does politics well. He's also an excellent problem solver who I've seen first hand effectively manage complex projects. That's one reason why Gary Locke, Greg Nickels and Ron Sims found him so valuable. Go, Tim, go.

    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    The one thing Ceis won't do is explain exactly how the bore tunnel will over time inevitably undermine building foundations above, leading to their condemnation and demolition, and in even moderate earthquakes, sudden collapse with a death toll, hopefully including Casey Corr to save him from the embarrassment of having to admit being dead wrong. Casey's tombstone could read "Dead Wrong".


    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 11:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    That's because it won't.


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yet another smart ass reply signifying only a suspiciously foolish adherence to untrustworthy, unaccountable automobile-related business interests running city hall and our polluting economic engines.

    ACbytelsa says there is no danger but NEVER addresses the huge displacement of unstable soils and underground water channels beneath vulnerable historic and modern buildings above. ACbytesla is a deceitful clueless chearleader hailing the bandwagon of the drunk with power. Chicken Little, as the story goes, over-reacted to a small matter.
    This is no small matter.

    There are many things wrong with the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project: poor traffic management, insufficient transit service, the cheap seawall replacement 'drill-fill' sea fence that compounds the problems of underground water, frivolous new waterfront amenities, the corrupt planning process, rigging the 2007 voter referendum, but worst of all the bore tunnel catastrophe in the making.


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about? I have absolutely NO stake in this. But I'm not going to allow you to post absurd chicken little claims about the soil conditions and how the tunnel will undermine the buildings in downtown Seattle. Your claims have no merit


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 4:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    Sounds like a conflict of interest story to me. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution, but to be both? and get paid? Doesn't anyone else see something wrong with that?


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 4:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    Cies's opinon changes depending on who is paying him. STP pays him, he is going to be as truthful and transparent as his paymasters let him. This is the same guy that tried to stop the liquor privatization in Washington as a paid consultant. If you got the money honey, Tim has the time.


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    What a surprise. Now we are paying them to spin us.


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    Exactly. Disgusting.


    Posted Tue, Feb 11, 2:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Enough is enough. The waterfront mess has grown to gargantuan proportions due to incompetence and arguably what will be prosecutable manipulation and mismanagagement. Notwithstanding the new mayor’s newly elected and highly paid waterfront circus, the only entities who should be administering to this problem now are the courts, the Feds and whoever produces and assigns investigative reporters for “60 Minutes.”

    At last…we finally do have a world class issue.


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Why didn't Paul Hammond front load this tunnel initiative with all those examples people are coming up with now? She couldn't sleep at night because a Washington State Ferry might be rusty and sink. So she shut them down on a holiday. But didn't close down all the bad bridges in the state? OK's a tunnel when most tunnels go into cost overruns and delays?

    I think the governor was asleep at during the Hammond meetings.


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 6:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    Paula Hammond didn't know what she was doing either, she was Peter Principled from the get-go.

    I'll never forgive her nor WSDOT and WSF for giving up the Steel Electrics forever, as well as destroying so many families Thanksgiving holidays. Port Townsend and Whidbey depended on those ferries, the economic damage has totally been understated.

    Now Bertha being stuck is just one more example as to how far off the realm of professional is our WSDOT.

    The governor may have been behind all of Hammonds bad decisions anyway.

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