Photos courtesy City of Burien
by Jack Mayne
It appears likely that Burien will never reopen the stairway to the beach at the city’s Eagle Landing Park, but a final decision will come after a city report to the City Council at some unspecified date.
A memo was prepared by city staff after The B-Town Blog pressed for an update on the stair closure, which readers said was taking too long and with no city public updates.
“City decisions on how to proceed on this active and dangerous area depend upon the findings of the report,” the city said in its memo issued Thursday (Aug. 13). “An update will be given to the City Council at an upcoming regularly scheduled Council meeting.
“However, unless episodic movement of the slope ceases, the stairs are hazardous and cannot accommodate public access.”
Keep off the stairs
Deteriorating site conditions led to the closure of the stairs in Eagle Landing Park after a December 2014 storm and they have been closed since (read our previous coverage here).
But, it is summer, and thereÂ is a beach luring people during the sunniest oneÂ in years to venture down there, and it is no secret that many are ignoring the signs the city posted saying to stay away. There are stories about people, often teens but not always, climbing down the sagging stairs and then climbing on the loose, sandy near cliff to the beach below.
But the city says, “The stairs remain closed to the public to preserve the safety of Park users.
“Residents are strongly urged to observe the closure.”
Stairs worked for years
The city staff memo repeated what early reports said when the park was being purchased.
“The land was known to be unstable, although much of the observable movement did not seriously damage the stairs for several years,” said the Thursday city memo. “A primary purpose of the park is to allow erosion to feed the sandy beach below while letting the public safely observe this natural process.
“After a decade of use, the stairs suffered damage caused by severe storm events and high tides. The damage exceeded the threshold for simple repairs and triggered the need for a full geotechnical review of the slope to determine whether the area is able to support such stairs given the changes to the landscape. That study launched in December and resulted in the current closure of the stairs.
The Burien staff said that last May geotechnical experts did another review to determine the current status of the slide and provide recommendations regarding public safety.
“Their final report is expected to be released in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the stairs remain closed to the public to preserve the safety of Park users.”
Stairs always a concern
Even before the park was opened to the public, the city was looking at the problems of stability of the cliff and whether a stairway was feasible. In a 2004 land use review, the city was concerned.
“The site has a long history of slope instability,” said the city report, adding that most “landslides are small slumps or flows” there was evidence that “large deep-seated landslides have occurred.”
The 2004 review said “steep slopes creeps imperceptibly on the order of 0.05 to 0.1 inches per year. This creep is the reason for the bowing and bending of the trees on the hillside.”
The report said that if a stairway was built “a basic assumption for this project is that the subject slope will continue to be unstable in the future” and that the Burien design team understood “that damage and even destruction of the stairway is possible, and that repair of the structure is probable.”
The City Council in April 2002 voted to buy property that would become Eagle Landing Park for $954,866 the from the Branson family.
The eight-acre site had “no seawalls, a rarity for this part of Puget Sound,” and included “247 feet of undeveloped shoreline, two acres of tidelands, and six acres of wooded uplands,” says the Burien city website.
The city “obtained grants to purchase the site, and provide $300,000 toward developing a beach access trail and protecting marine riparian and second-growth forest,” and the Council said its vision for the park was to “provide an open space where community education and access are in harmony with habitat and critical area preservation as represented in the grant process.”
After the property was purchased, another $824,135 was spent to develop it. It was officially opened as a park in June 2005, and was closed in Dec. 2014, when these photos were taken: