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

Tim Ceis visits Crosscut Credit: 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.

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