For the past year, homeless people have been rousted from their sleeping spots as construction inches north along the waterfront in preparation for the tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
First, when the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) rerouted Alaskan Way under the highway, those who bedded down against the viaduct’s large pillars were forced to move along.
Then, WSDOT removed the covered trolley stops that were a haven for people looking to sleep out of the rain.
Now, the gargantuan construction project has claimed yet another coveted shred of shelter: Washington Street Boat Landing, a rectangle of public space that sits on the sea wall, just south of the ferry terminal.
On Aug. 9, work crews put up a tall fence topped with barbed wire, enclosing the historic 1920s black iron-and-steel structure, much to the chagrin of some who stay at the Compass Center, transitional housing located across the street from the landing.
spd requested the fences, saying the area had become dangerous to the public after wsdot set up a two-block-long staging area. It obscured the view of the boat landing from the east. If something happened at the boat ramp, drivers, pedestrians and police officers could not see the area, said spd spokesman Sean Whitcomb.
“This is a very temporary closure,” Whitcomb said.
The fences weren’t requested by wsdot, which had already cleared encampments too close to the construction with the help of outreach workers funded by the City of Seattle.
“The people who were using the boat landing as shelter never bothered our crews or were disruptive to our work in any way,” said Broch Bender, spokesman for wsdot.
spd had different concerns. In July, when police officers visited the landing, they found 20 people, garbage and the feces of dogs and cats. A police report said it was an area known for illegal activity.
Police worried the area would be even more dangerous when hidden from view.
spd’s closure of the boat ramp raises questions about protections to historic structures. spd failed to notify the Pioneer Square Preservation Board, which issues permits for any changes in the structure or any access to the area’s historic buildings, including fences.
Genna Nashem, who runs the preservation program, said she did not know about the closure until the fence was already up.
“Any time there’s an alteration to any landmark in the district, it would require an approval,” from the board, Nashem said.
Nashem is now working with SDOT, the property owner, to get approval retroactively.
A spokesperson for SDOT declined to comment for this story, other than to confirm that SPD requested the fencing and SDOT hired All City Fencing to install it.
With the Boat Landing’s three benches secured behind a fence, 23-year-old Compass client David, who declined to give his last name, sat on some nearby rocks to share a cigarette with his friend Roger, 49.
“We usually go to the Compass Center and then come over here,” he said, noting that the benches had a nice view of Elliott Bay. “I would’ve liked it open; we have to hang out here on the rocks with the bird shit.”
Compass client NoSkot Pierson was happy to see the landing blocked off. The area around it has been cleaner and safer since the fence went up, he said.
“You don’t want to know what was on that Boat Landing,” Pierson said.