Here’s what to expect as construction starts for Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook seawall replacement

(Photo from meeting presentation)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Work will start as soon as next week at the site of the Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook seawall replacement project on Beach Drive.

The project’s been years in the making. One year after an in-person community meeting (WSB coverage here), Seattle Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are ready to get it going, and they told attendees that construction of the 465-foot-long seawall will last about half a year.

Major concerns voiced during the meeting included the team’s mention of a construction fence covered with a “green tarp” and how that might affect views. (Here’s the meeting slide deck.)

Presenters were Jeff Dillon, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Garrett Farrell, senior capital project manager for Seattle Parks; Jenna Cunningham, project engineer for the Corps of Engineers; and Lee Ford, project designer for the Corps of Engineers. More than 45 people were in attendance via videoconference/phone.

Farrell briefly recapped the problem – an old seawall, with a key sewer line right behind it. It’s been monitored for years. He said the city is “super excited” for this to be about to start construction, potentially even “ahead of schedile.”

Project manager Dillon showed an aerial view of the old seawall. The new one will provide longevity and beach protection, and improve the park’s conditions. Both the city and the Corps are contributing to the cost. A closeup showed the existing seawall is “on its very last legs.” Part of the seawall failed in 1998 and was shored up with rocks.

Ford, the technical lead, said the new wall is being built in front o the existing wall because demolition of the latter would risk the sewer line’s integrity. “The wall is supposed to be a sheet tile wall with eight piles driven at a specific distance on center. Between those piles, we will be placing concrete lagging. That will be the gist of the material of the wall. We will fill the void between the N=new wall and the existing wall with sand fill.”

Other recapped details – there’ll be a new sidewalk ending at a viewpoint, and railing atop the wall. The exact end of the wall will be up to the contractor, depending on how it best ties in.

Question: What about fish? Answer: The emphasis on a vertical wall will be more fish-friendly, as well as some restoration of the “beach profile.” The team added that part of the project will “mimic natural gravel composition. That profile of the beach in the area of the seawall has been degraded and pushed down over the years because of the refracted wave energy that hits the wall and bounces back. The last thing we are doing is looking to the north where the riprap wall currently exists. … We will be taking an effort to pull some of that back up so it’s not sitting out there.”

Q: Will there be beach access at the north end? A: Not a formal one.

Q: What address does the “viewpoint” (along the new sidewalk) correspond to? A: Check the map.

Cunningham then took over, to discuss the construction plan. Some specifics of the traffic plan are still under review by SDOT – such as the trucks’ route (keeping the West Seattle Bridge closure in mind) – and expected to be ready by the second community meeting July 1st. The sidewalk and parking lane will be closed, with a temporary 6′ construction fence with a green tarp, along Beach Drive between Snoqualmie and Jacobsen. The piles will be drilled, nor driven/pounded, she clarified.

Mobilization will be the first stage – a trailer, crane, piles will be delivered to the site.

Q: Why tarp the fence? A: Security of the construction site.

Q: Temporary crosswalks are shown in the plan – what would it take tp make them permanent? A: Farrell advised contacting SDOT if you want to advocate for somethiing prmanent.

Another commenter objected to the visual barrier since it’s a place for viewing wildlife, so the Corps said they’ll take that under consideration.

What to expect during construction: Most work is below the seawall so tides will dictate a lot of the working hours – they might have some early days when there’s a mornng low-low tide. They want to work quickly so it’s done by fall storm season. After mobilization, contractor Redside should start major construction in mid-July – in-water work isn’t allowed until July 15th. The “demobilizing” could be as late as January.

In further Q&A, a commenter concerned about trees blocking views was directed to check the “landscape plan”; another commenter wondering about noise affecting marine wildlife was told there’ll be an environmental monitor on-site. What about mobility accommodations for park visitors? The new sidewalk will be gently sloped, the team responded, but when asked about accommodation for visually challenged people – such as signage – didn’t have an answer.

WHAT’S NEXT: As mentioned above, the 4 pm July 1st meeting will include some new information about the traffic plan for the project, plus a repeat of this presentation, and another chance to ask questions. Meeting-access information is in our original preview. You can also email questions to

7 Replies to "Here's what to expect as construction starts for Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook seawall replacement"

  • Dan June 18, 2020 (12:44 pm)

    This is an important infrastructure issue of which will help ensure the integrity of Beach Drive and the Safety of sewer line that runs beneath it.    I’m glad that this is moving forward.

  • Craig June 18, 2020 (1:38 pm)

    It’s a temp construction site, so yes there will need to be a fence up. Yes, it’ll block views for a very very few people directly across from it. If one wants to view wildlife a walk a few feet to the north around the construction area will solve that issue. I’m glad the city is pushing to get this done asap and taking SO many considerations into mind (fish, neighbors, etc). 

  • Eric June 18, 2020 (2:17 pm)

    Tracy, thanks for the excellent reporting!  I was on the call and your reporting is complete, accurate and wonderful for those that could not attend.

    • WSB June 18, 2020 (2:26 pm)

      Thank you for the kind words.

  • TM7302 June 18, 2020 (6:13 pm)

    A temporary fence which will be hiding the construction on a seawall that protects my $1.9M house from storm erosion and prevents me from viewing wildlife from that same house?  Well, that sucks…

  • Mike Lindblom June 19, 2020 (11:01 am)

    Hopefully the new seawall and beach changes will eliminate the scouring, and improve fish habitat.  It is possible through good science – Seattle Parks successfully restored the flattened south beach at Lincoln Park during the mid-1980s, where the beach was completely hard packed below the FDR-era seawall. They called the project “beach nourishment,” and the new sands they deposited remain stable and covered in driftwood today. 

  • Brian June 24, 2020 (12:47 pm)

    I know that this is an old thread, but for what it’s worth, I thought that it would be worth noting that there are way more than 8 piles as noted above.  The drawings show 76 piles spaced at 6 feet on center.  This amount seems to make more sense with the extent of seawall to be replaced.  (Unless I’m missing something?)

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