Seattle City Light has released a new video showing the very beginning of the collapse of 26 power poles on East Marginal Way earlier this month, but the city continues to withhold basic information about the incident, which crushed a car and sent its two occupants to the hospital.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office, anticipating lawsuits, has taken over the investigation into what caused more than a half-mile’s worth of power poles outside the Museum of Flight to crash, bearing live wires, into the street on April 5.
City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office has hired an outside investigator but has declined to say who it is or what specifically they will be looking at. In response to a public-records request, the City Attorney’s Office estimated it would take more than six weeks to — possibly — release records identifying the investigator.
The new video, while much less dramatic than video previously released by the Tukwila Police Department that shows a power pole impaling the car, shows the moments when the line of 90-foot tall poles begins to fall.
This video, from a nearby surveillance camera, shows the moments when the poles begin to fall. (Seattle City Light)
The footage, captured by a Boeing security camera at East Marginal Way and South 87th Place, shows only about five seconds of action, once the poles begin to fall, before cutting off.
“The video starts as rain and wind begin in the area and appears to abruptly stop when the camera loses power,” Seattle City Light wrote, in releasing it.
It shows either five or six of the power poles falling, one by one, like a string of high-voltage timber dominoes, but they collapse in different ways. Three or four of the poles collapse how you’d expect a timber pole to fall — they pivot and fall from the base, like a tree felled by an ax. But at least two of the poles tumble differently. Instead of breaking or uprooting at the bottom, they buckle and break midway — or higher — up, like a match snapped in half.
Seattle City Light exclusively owns 19 of the collapsed power poles, while the utility jointly owns the other seven poles with CenturyLink, according to a map provided by Seattle City Light.
Nikki Wheeler, a CenturyLink spokeswoman, said the company hadn’t confirmed that it owned any of the poles, but was still looking into it.
“We don’t have it in our system that we’ve got any of these poles,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got multiple entities looking into this, so far nobody has been able to say, ‘Yes, these are our poles.'”
Seattle City Light was responsible for inspecting 25 of the 26 poles, according to the map, while inspection of the last pole was a joint city and CenturyLink responsibility.
The city hires a private contractor to do visual and sound inspections — hitting the poles with a hammer and listening for hollow decay — and a bore inspection. Each new pole costs about $10,000.
The two oldest of the toppled poles were installed in 1954 and the five newest were installed in 2011. All 26 were last inspected in 2016, City Light said, when they were given a rating ranging from 1 to 5. None of the poles received the lowest rating, which would have flagged them for immediate replacement, City Light said.
Seattle City Light has repeatedly refused to let The Seattle Times see or photograph the power poles, which have been transferred to a “secure yard.”
“We want to keep them as close to the condition as they were at the time they were moved to the yard, free of outside interference,” City Light spokeswoman Julie Moore said. “Everything is under tarps, removing the tarps for photos would be disturbing them.”