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Community objects to fill-in plan for Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel

Mushroom farms. A composting laboratory for Bill Gates. And sewage storage in the heart of the city. All ideas for what to do with Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel instead of simply closing it up and filling it in.

“It could be a laboratory for the Gates Foundation to finally work out their composting commode idea …” said Buster Simpson at the city council’s Sustainability and Finance Committee meeting Thursday. “I beg to differ with the engineering assessments that this cannot be secured and stabilized … Looks like we have to go to the governor, right? To convince him that if he wants to be president, this would be a great opportunity for him.”

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The Battery Street Tunnel is slated to be filled in once the new Highway 99 tunnel opens later this year. The old tunnel has provided a route under Belltown — and has had a bladder control problem — since 1965.

Battery Street Tunnel

When the new tunnel was designed, it was agreed that the Washington State Department of Transportation would decommission the Battery Street Tunnel. The Seattle council is now considering a bill which allows the mayor to negotiate responsibilities for that job. It’s the latest in a series of agreements between the city and the state.

KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan says that the plan for the structure was cemented years ago.

“The tunnel is going to be filled in,” Sullivan says. “That’s the plan WSDOT has had. It’s part of the deal to complete the 99 tunnel project. It has an obligation to fill it in. WSDOT says the tunnel would need major updates and improvements to be used for anything else.”

The current plan is to hire a contractor to fill in the tunnel in the spring of 2018. Work will take 18-24 months. A parcel of land at the south end of the tunnel is being considered for new open space.

A group called Recharge the Battery has sprung up, however, to change WSDOT’s plan. Members spoke at the  Thursday meeting to promote other ideas. Councilmember Mike O’Brien noted that while he thinks good ideas have come from the community, halting the tunnel plan would have financial impacts for the city. The committee recommended moving the bill to the full council.

Seattle’s stinky problem

The most cited community suggestion is to use the tunnel for storm water overflow. Steven Fry with the 2030 District agrees with Recharge the Battery.

“We believe the Battery Street Tunnel is an invaluable asset to the continued sustainability of Belltown by adding storm water management capacity, providing a testing ground for new methods of wastewater treatment, or some other use determined after careful analysis,” Fry told the committee.

RELATED: Could Seattle grow mushrooms in a decommissioned tunnel?

It’s not a new idea. Seattle bored another tunnel under Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford to provide sewage / storm water storage. Another tunnel was constructed underneath the canal near Fremont.

When the city was designed more than 100 years ago, planners flushed sewage from homes and storm water into the same pipes. But as more streets were built and as heavy rain storms increased, those pipes have overflowed more often. Overflows push sewage into Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington. Seattle and King County were fined for how often pipes overflow into natural waters.

The problem is expected to get worse as the region’s population continues to boom.

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