It’s good news, bad news for Tacoma Rescue Mission’s sewer line troubles

Monday, September 29, 2015
By: Matt Driscoll /

When is confirming damage to a sewage line a positive outcome?

Only when it’s not as bad as you feared it would be.

And this is precisely the situation the Tacoma Rescue Mission finds itself in.

Last month, as you may recall, the ground near the southeast corner of the Rescue Mission’s dining room started to feel “spongy,” as executive director Mike Johnson described it at the time. It also started to smell, well, not so good. I experienced this unfortunate reality firsthand during a visit to the building along South Tacoma Way.

Neither of these developments, of course, suggested positive news. The Rescue Mission is currently mired in a lawsuit with Sound Transit, alleging that as much as five inches of ground settling in some spots since 2011 is a direct result of construction of Sound Transit’s commuter rail line, which runs just behind the organization’s property. (Sound Transit, naturally, denies this – hence the lawsuit.)

Damage to a sewer line in the exact location where the most significant settling has occurred seemed like a predictable culprit for this latest Rescue Mission headache.

So, after a preliminary diagnosis — which involved a plumber running a camera down the sewer line — showed signs of trouble, the mission closed for a day in late August so a more extensive test could determine the precise cause of the problem.

The bad news: The sewer line under the Rescue Mission is, in fact, damaged.

The good news, according to Johnson: It’s not as bad as it could have been.

Initially, Johnson and others at the mission feared extensive damage to the sewer line would necessitate a lengthy closure, requiring the water to be shut off and the temporary displacement of the roughly 200 people who sleep at the mission’s emergency shelter and in addiction recovery beds every night.

“We did find some problems, but none were show-stoppers,” Johnson recently told me when I checked in for an update. “Where we found (the problems) is right in the swath of the biggest settling, and in a place that would be super disruptive and expensive to fix.

“So, at this point our plan is to keep maintenance on it, and an eye on it, and hopefully we can nurse it along.”

That’s a relief, for the Rescue Mission and the city it serves.

Of course, with the ground continuing to sink beneath the building, cracks continuing to spread throughout it, and no quick resolution to the lawsuit in sight, it’s probably more of a temporary reprieve than a happy ending.

Stay tuned.


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