Walsh Construction is still wrapping up work in Smith Cove Park.
Walsh Construction is still wrapping up work in Smith Cove Park.

After a wastewater pipe break caused an expensive and lengthy delay, the Magnolia Conveyance project is nearly complete and the Magnolia Wet Weather Storage Facility is back online.

King County Waste Water Treatment Division deputy director Bruce Kessler gave a presentation on the project at the regular Magnolia Community Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15.

The Magnolia Conveyance project was initiated to prevent wastewater and stormwater from being released into Puget Sound.

"Seattle sewer pipes, which not only receive sewer from the homes but stormwater," Kessler said. "Those combined in the pipes all collect down at 32nd Avenue West. That pipe connects to our Magnolia intersector, and that flows during normal weather... into our pump center which, then pumps those flows to West Point (Treatment Plant). During wet weather, when the system can't handle all the flow that's coming to it, the excess flow comes out a pipe into the Sound. Our project was to keep excess from coming out that pipe."

The pipe releases excess flows near a public beach on 32nd Avenue West. The wet weather facility in Smith Cove Park includes a pipe to divert excess water and a 1.5 million gallon storage tank. The diversion pipe was installed in 2014-15 and the tank was installed in 2015, Kessler said.

King County engineers identified issues with the new pipe in 2016 and decided to try and clean it. During the cleaning, Kessler said, dirt and pipe debris was found, which meant the pipe had broken. The break was in the area of Thorndyke Avenue West and West Galer Street.

King County installed a new pipe using pipe-bursting technology in 2018. A pipe-cutter was pushed through the defective pipe's space, which broke the old pipe into pieces. An expander head was then used to push away the pieces of the destroyed pipe while also making more room for the new pipe. The new pipe was pulled in behind the expander, the final step in the installation and replacement.

Kessler said the county is unsure why or how the original pipe broke. He also had difficulty answering some of the council's questions since the county is currently entangled in a lawsuit with the project contractor's insurance company.

King County filed a lawsuit against Ace American Insurance Company for more than $20 million in costs incurred from the pipe replacement in U.S. District Court on Dec. 31. According to the county’s complaint, the county believes the break happened when the pipe's head was pulled off during a pullback around Dec. 19, 2014.

Project contractor Walsh Construction Company notified Ace of the loss in November 2016. The Pittsburgh-based insurance company denied the contractor's claim. 

A King County Combined Sewer Overflow Annual Report found an average of 30 untreated overflows at the site in 2017, Kessler said at the council meeting.

King County provided Ace with the results of the investigation last March and asked the company to reconsider its 2016 denial. Neither the contractor nor the county heard from the insurance company in the proceeding months. The county notified Ace in December of a pending lawsuit if the insurance company continued to be unresponsive.

King County is seeking monetary reimbursement for the cost of the replacement project, Consumer Protection Act damages and attorneys’ fees. The county is also seeking an award of treble damages, which would triple the amount Ace would pay if the courts side with the county.

Kessler told the Magnolia Community Council inspections were done to see how much soil was lost while the original pipe was broken; the county concluded no significant amount of soil was lost. The original pipe was made out of a type of high-endurance plastic, but the new pipe was created out of high-density polyethylene. The wet weather facility is opened and prepared to start taking in excess flows in late December.