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High tide halts construction on Soboleff Center downtown

Posted: September 19, 2013 - 11:09pm  |  Updated: September 20, 2013 - 12:11am
Salt water floods the Soboleff Center building site at the corner of Front and Seward Streets Thursday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Salt water floods the Soboleff Center building site at the corner of Front and Seward Streets Thursday.

If the new Walter Soboleff Cultural Center isn’t built on time, you can blame it on the tides.

Salt water seeped up from the ground and flooded the excavation site during high tide Thursday afternoon, halting construction on the planned Tlingit and Haida cultural center.

Construction crews tried to pump water out of the 15-foot deep pit and shut down vehicle traffic on the alleyway behind the site (Shattuck Way), but Friday’s tide is expected to flood the area again.

City officials went to the scene to ensure a broken water pipe was not the cause, and City and Borough of Juneau Engineering Director Rorie Watt confirmed it wasn’t.

“I’m 99 percent sure it was the tide coming in,” Watt said Thursday. “The flooding is probably going to happen again the next couple of days.”

The construction site is situated on the corner of Seward and Front Streets, the location of Juneau’s original shoreline. Waste rock, also called shot rock, from the AJ Mine was later used to fill it the area, stretching as far as the Willoughby district. (For perspective, Centennial Hall on Egan Drive is built on the shot rock.)

Watt noted that water, however, can still push through the shot rock since it is “pretty cobble-y and filled with space.”

“For the Sealaska project, the water is just finding a path of least resistance,” he added.

Civil engineers working on the center could not be reached for comment by press time, nor could Sealaska Heritage Institute. SHI is raising $20 million to build the center, which is named after the late Dr. Walter Soboleff, an influential Tlingit leader and former Chair of SHI’s board of trustees.

Ground was broken at the site on Aug. 1, and officials expect construction will last two years.

On Thursday, high tide reached 18.7 feet at 1:48 p.m., and it will reach about the same — 18.9 feet — on Friday at 2:24 p.m., according to tide data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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