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.

But, it is summer, and there is a beach luring people during the sunniest one 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.”

Park history

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.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

24 replies on “FOLLOWUP: Eagle Landing Park stairway may never open again”

  1. Sad to read the stairs may never open again. The climb was fun and great exercise too, all while enjoying the natural setting.
    I hope the city will remove the damaged stairs and let nature continue with its course. Oh, wait a sec, isn’t there a street drain emptying directly into that area? Or am I thinking of drain in another location?

  2. Why not create an elevated pier/boardwalk at the top, slightly above ground level and started far enough inland, to allow for future erosion. The pier could project out at the top of the cliff just far enough to not include the cliff for support, and then create a ‘free standing’ staircase to go down to the beach? Go for minimal expense and have fund raisers, along with salvaging whatever can be reused from the current staircase.

    1. My thought as well. Isn’t there a Really nice staircase at a park in Normandy Park (Marine View Park)?
      That thing is huge and has been there forever.

  3. What a shame our city spent nearly $2 million in public funds on a park that they knew this would happen to in pretty short order.

    1. LOL! Terrific! I needed a towel to dry off after watching this! Thanks for the link. It will be great way to cool off on the up coming hot days. Point well made!

  4. Can you believe this statement from the City?
    “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”
    There is a seawall. It failed due to erosion caused by the giant storm water pipe at the top of the park, dumping tens of thousands of gallons of water onto the open ground. Do not believe this bogus story claiming the sea water waves caused all these issues, some of them hundreds of feet from the shoreline. Geo Engineer’s report fails to mention this massive pipe. Anyone with common sense knows you cannot dump all that water on a slope.
    Anyone can go watch the erosion from this pipe on a rainy day. You can follow the water all the way to the failed piers. The trench it has cut is obvious to anyone. This same water caused the giant Eagle Perch tree to fall. The City has quietly tried to stop the flow of this water with simple methods but has failed to acknowledge it publicly.
    The City’s position they were aware of the unstable conditions but purchased the property anyway for nearly a million dollars and then spent another 380K on the stairway makes no sense to anyone. Not to mention the funds spent building the parking lot. This “we knew it would fail story” is a new story to avoid the real issue.
    We want the drain pipe fixed. We want the stairs repaired. We want our investment treated as an asset rather than a total loss. The Geo Engineer’s report is bogus and very misleading and they will have to soon address the storm drain they left out of their report because the drain is still there and will continue to do harm at a rapid rate. The pipe dumps 7800 gallons of water an hour at its peak flow. No slope can handle that kind of water flow without destruction. Anyone can go down there and see the damage as it is happening.
    There is a solution. A vertical drain can be drilled at the top of the park. This drain can be designed to handle the water flow and also assure the water gets filtered naturally.
    This story is not going away. The rain is coming and soon the Geo Engineer’s bogus report will erode about as fast as the erosion caused by the pipe. We will all be watching.
    Why is the City ignoring the issues? Quoting the former City Manager “John, we cannot afford to fix the storm pipe so we are going to defend ourselves with this geo report”
    Martin is gone, so now do we have the leadership to actually come clean and solve the issues or is this head-in-the-sand management going to continue?

    1. Mr.white if you want the park fixed that you live right next to. Why don’t you try to buy it back from the city and fix it yourself. I mean you already own forest ledge the property was originally part of forest ledge. I would like know why the city bought the property in the first place.

      1. Jimmy, you ask two questions. !) Why don’t I buy the property? I did buy it. We all bought it. Everyone in Burien is an owner of this property. We not only purchased it, we invested tens of thousands of dollars in it.
        If you are asking me to buy it personally then please be advised, its not for sale. In its current state it is a massive liability, especially if they fail to address the pipe that is causing all the issues. The seawall has failed and right now the City will not even accept the fact that a seawall exists even through you can go down to the beach and take a photo of it. The liability grows with each passing day. People jump the fence, erode the soil, and the clock is ticking on when something real bad happens.
        Why did they buy it? Well if you listen to the latest story, its primary purpose is to feed the water below and also allow for our citizens to visit the beach.
        However, the underlying story is the folks around the property became concerned when the Branson’s put the property up for sale because they feared a developer would buy it and develop it so they lobbied the City to buy it and turn it into a park. These same citizens, some of them very influential, are secretly very pleased the park stairs are closed. They stopped the developers. They hated the park traffic and that problem is now solved. That is why you never hear from them. They could give a crap about the park- they just wanted to avoid developers. Do we hear from any of them? No. Where are those folks that lobbied for this park? The are in their homes happy no one can walk on their beach. But the reality is, people ignore the warning signs and jump over the fence and now they have more than nice people on their beach. They are hoping the City gets tough and stops the traffic from jumping the fence. Is this just a story or is part of this true?
        Who knows the real story. It does not matter. The narrow strip of land was worthless as a park until they put up the stairs. Now the entire slope has been declared unstable and not safe for anyone to use the stairs. Its your money. I am trying to shed light on it so please help rather than attack me.
        The stairs can be saved if good people tell the truth and deal with the problems.
        Jimmy, I know you have good energy inside you………..tap into it………..let’s here your best advice on how to solve the issue without taking shots at me.

  5. Mr. White, what you say is all very interesting and brings up some significant information.
    What Jimmy has added, is also very interesting. Is it true that you own adjoining property? And/or were involved in the park land deal? If so, you need to get in the habit of disclosing such things early on in your posts. Did any of this happen while you were the former president of Discover Burien? Who first suggested the site might be turned into a park? Were drainage issues ever discussed prior to the time of purchase?

    1. Sandy S,
      Eagle Landing park was purchased by the City in 2002. John White bought his property in 2012. All this is easily found in about two minutes of google searches.
      I don’t know him personally, but John White does a lot for this community and we should be grateful. He is always wanting what’s best for Burien and often puts his (own) money where his mouth is. Furthermore, most people would be happy to see a public park right next door to their house all but abandoned by they City .. less traffic and noise for them! But John is advocating that we keep it open to the public so everyone can enjoy it.
      We frequently see the opposite from folks on Lake Burien – the vocal ones want the public space of the Lake to themselves.
      But John is advocating keeping the public space open to the public, even though that will likely cause more noise and disruption to him.
      Thank you, John!

  6. The Seahurst Land Company owned this land and sold water off of it from the many springs in the hillside. The springs empty out at about 50′ from the bottom. So the land is constantly soaked and unstable.The slope is made of a layer of lake clay on top of silt. So it is very unstable and slides constantly. The residents in Seahurst pestered the city to buy this land from 2000 to 2002. The city acquired it in April, 2002. So if you have a beef with who bought the land, find out who on the council in 2002 voted to buy the land and complain to them. The current Shoreline Master Plan doesn’t allow building in this kind of area any longer. Again if you have a complaint about the rules, take it up with the State of Washingtion as this plan is Washington State Law. The area is unstable by its geological makeup and because of the wave action from the Sound.
    Not one penny more of citizen tax dollars should be spent to repair this bottom area because they will continue to wash out and be unstable. Science and geology have marched on since this land was purchased for a park. People who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it over and over again. And John White is no geologist or geotech by training.

    1. Interesting that someone once sold the water from the springs. One wonders why this spring water is not still of value?

  7. Lilly, I have been reading geo reports for more than 30 years as part of my career. However, no one needs to have a geo engineering degree to have common sense. Just read your post that goes on and on about how the slope is soaked. So do you really think dumping 7800 gallons of water an hour from a open storm drain that comes from 26 homes all into one pipe is not a factor?
    Furthermore, I have two geotechnical engineering companies working on this issue- one is Landau and Associates and the other is Slope Inc. Each of them agree the pipe should not be dumping all this water on a saturated slope.
    The pipe has been there before Burien was a City.
    The City presented their conclusions, claiming the pipe is not a factor. I once believed this to be true but I have been watching the pipe and the flow of water now for several years. When the rains come the flow of water drops on the giant French drain and goes into the ground……leaving the impression that everything is working fine. However, after several hard rains the sand gets filled with water, no longer does this water go into the ground. It runs down hill and first washes out the path, (which will happen again this year) and then it carves a giant ditch all through the park.
    Trees are dropping hundreds of feet from the shoreline. The trees are in the path of the erosion flow from this pipe. The giant Eagle perch was a victim of this water flow. That tree was over 150 feet from the shoreline…………..and well above the clay layer which is at the 50 foot mark. Why do you think this tree fell?
    We can debate this situation but, while debating, the rains will come and we will see massive erosion in the park. This comes from the pipe at the top but we now have a larger problem from below.
    The seawall is broken. A day will come when the failure of this wall and the refusal to repair it will cause more than just a stair pier to fail. What then?

    1. Mr. White, I am trying to get a picture of what might be happening to the quality of the spring water. Of the 26 homes that you mentioned, do you happen to know if they are all on a sewer line? Or, how many might be on septic systems?

  8. Lilly, the soils reports show sand to an elevation of 50-feet, Silt is not the dominant soil. The water dumping on the ground from the pipe quickly goes into the sandy soil right to the clay layer and then moves towards the beach where it comes out of the ground about 50 feet above sea level. The Eagle Perch fell due to an ejection of soil above the clay layer. The ejection was caused by a massive rain storm that filled the sand layer above with so much water that it could not flow naturally above the clay layer – so pressure built up and blasted the sand outward towards the sea, causing a massive land slide – not by ocean waves but by water pressure above the clay layer. This slide destroyed the seawall.
    The blast occurred just 5 feet below the Eagle Tree Perch that had been there for more than 200 years.
    Why did this happen? What changed? The pipe has been there since before Burien was a City and has been draining there for more than 20-years so again, why did this suddenly impact the giant tree? Something changed.
    Here is the answer to the question. The pipe erodes the Eagle Landing pathway every year. Every year the Parks Department repairs the damage. The City came up with an idea to increase the size of the corrugated steel pipe under the path. They removed the single pipe and installed two new larger pipes.
    Enlarging just one pipe can increase flow by four times but they installed two pipes which greatly increased the flow of water onto the park, passing over the French drain as waters goes to the path of least resistance. What happened? The extra flow dug a trench through the park. The extra flow allowed more water to dump on an already saturated slope. This is why you see trees falling well above the shoreline and why the stair piers are slipping.
    Yes, slopes naturally slip but very slowly. If 26 homes and the street storm water was not being dumped on the site then the pace of movement would be very slow. The large pipes are only recently installed. Go down and take a look. Take some before and after photos for yourself. While you walk around take note of the water barriers and other attempts the City has quietly done to stop this new flow of water- all washed out by the way.
    Many of us have experienced problems where we think we can fix them with a simple adjustment at one point, not taking into consideration the entire system. I am sure the Parks Department believed they could prevent the Eagle Landing path from eroding by simply increasing the size and amount of pipes under the path……………but this paved the way for tens of thousands of gallons of water to move freely and quickly down the hill.
    By the way, spring water has never been extracted from any land now encompassing Eagle Landing Park or Forest Ledge. The water you refer to is far south where the flow is much larger.

    1. Spring water was also collected in what is now the north creek basin of Seahurst Park. It was hauled in water tanks to customers. There are still some pipes with running water and remains of an old dam and some other pipes. Water also comes out all along the beach and on pretty much all the slopes in the area, hence all the wetlands in Seahurst Park.

    2. In the process of putting in a new sea wall it would take some large support beams to be put in. I wonder if a company called American Piledriving Equipment would put in a bid for the job and win that bid with there owners connections in the city.
      American Piledriving Equipment Inc
      7032 South 196th St
      Kent, WA 98032 – View Map
      Phone: (253) 872-4119
      John White, Owner
      as you can see the owner is one john white

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