Soil sends worker to E.R.

By Ruth Longoria

An eleventh hour glitch reared its ugly smell in the past few weeks just as the Town Center's Island Market Square development looked to be moving along rapidly toward its anticipated end-of-the-year opening.

Workers discovered soil contamination while digging beneath the roadway in the 7800 block of S.E. 27th Street, between Island Market Square and Tully's Coffee. The contamination was discovered a few weeks ago, although no one seems to have kept a record of the date, when a site worker became faint and was overcome by gas fumes while working in a hole that had been opened up in the street. Mercer Island Fire Department was called to the scene and transported the worker to a local hospital, according to witnesses, who do not want to be named; however, the department has no known record of the call. Because of privacy issues, the hospital does not release information on the worker's condition or if he was released.

The contamination is believed to have been caused by gasoline leakage into the utility lines from a service station that was previously located next to where Tully's Coffee is now, said Michael Christ, owner of SECO Development, the company building Island Market Square.

``This isn't uncommon in old towns, where you don't find something like this until you get under the streets,'' Christ said. ``This was the first time we cut into the streets.''

Glenn Boettcher, maintenance director for the city, who is in charge of the city's investigation of the contamination, agrees with Christ's assessment. ``We think it's confined to the one area, and this was a relatively small deal, with not a lot of impact, except that it slowed (the contractors) down a bit,'' Boettcher said.

After Island Market Square's contractors discovered the contamination, they notified the city and the Department of Ecology. Because it was a voluntary cleanup, and the site isn't near the lake or in a wetland area, there is no enforced inspection by DOE or the city, Boettcher said. ``Island Market Square did the right thing, so they were allowed to take care of it, this really wasn't a big thing.''

Christ said that the responsible party is ultimately the one who pays for cleanup, but Island Market Square folks paid to dispose of the offending dirt and when the city determines who is at fault, they would eventually have to re-imburse for the bill.

However, Boettcher said that's not completely correct. ``They (Island Market's contractors or sub-contractors) were doing the work, so they voluntarily paid for cleaning it up. The city isn't out any money,'' Boettcher said. ``Nothing happens now unless they ask anyone to pay them back. They'd need to take the next step and file a claim against the city. That hasn't happened yet, as far as I know.''

Steel plates still covered the holes on that portion of S.E. 27th Street on Friday; however, Christ said the contractors had the situation under control and the gasoline was already cleaned up. ``We just said, `Clean it up as fast as possible,' '' Christ said. ``The contractors are working fast and furious to get it all closed up so they don't lose a lot of time,'' he said.

Christ is sure the construction- and- contamination- caused delays will soon be forgotten. ``This is the most painful time for the people around trying to use the sidewalks and streets, but we should have it all OK soon, we're trying to be neighborly and all that,'' he said. ``We're planning to open (Island Market Square businesses) by the end of the year, and that will add another 500 parking spaces to the downtown area. So people should be happier then.''

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