Redefined, Doomed & Hammered

Is Mt. Rainier still a mountain? Plus: Viaduct apocalypse theories in the nation's 12th drunkest city.

Redefined

Nine is no longer a lucky number so far as Pluto is concerned. Last week the International Astronomical Union downgraded the icy orb to a mere "dwarf planet." In effect, Pluto has been voted off the island: Its 1,600-mile diameter is too puny, its gravitational force too wimpy, its 248-year orbit too pokey, its frozen gaseous atmosphere just not ready for prime time. Its 76 years of fame—or planetary impersonation, if you will—are over; it's now just another loser is the Kuiper Belt.

But the scientific redefinition of familiar landmarks and personalities hasn't stopped there. Lost in the news about the contentious IAU conference in Prague, there have been several other recent reappraisals of old standards and nomenclature. After several beers at the Tukwila Hooters, members of the International Geophysicists Union have decided that Mount Rainier no longer meets the criteria defining "mountain." Said one scientist, while attempting to stuff a tip down a waitress' blouse, "Look, it's tall and big and white and everything, but it just doesn't have the classical shape and profile conforming to our ideal mathematical equations. Now the Grand Tetons—those are mountains." Rainier will now be termed "Anomalous Geological Mass Obstructing View of Oregon."

According to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of Highway Engineers, the Alaskan Way Viaduct really shouldn't be given the above-ground "viaduct" honorific anymore. "We've revised our engineering and structural standards," says a PNCHE spokesperson. "We now feel a more accurate categorization is 'Devastating Collapse Into Rubble Waiting to Happen.' We also recommend someone put up some parking signs to that effect."

Tim Eyman, traditionally called a ballot initiative organizer, will now be known as the "raging homophobe from the sticks who won't stop screwing with a city where there aren't any neighborhoods trashy enough for him to reside." A short, catchy acronym is pending. Owing to the team's maddening inconsistency, the Seattle Mariners have recently been downgraded by Major League Baseball. Their new moniker: the Toy Boat Skippers. Transportation engineers recently declared Seattle's constantly stuck, broken, and/or out-of-service monorail will adopt a new marketing slogan: "Not going anywhere? Neither are we." And Ballard, formerly known as "the next West Seattle," is now "the new Bellevue." BRIAN MILLER

Doomed

Optimistic Seattleites are discussing the three viaduct replacement proposals as though one of them will actually happen. Yet while wolfing down pizza at Harvey's Tavern the other night, two credible political insiders predicted that nothing will happen, regardless of what option the City Council or voters select this fall. The logic is that there's enough opposition to each option to tie up whichever one wins in court for years.

Likely scenario: The viaduct gets torn down and is replaced by the existing service streets near the waterfront. This would all be a little Ollie Stone were it not for the typically sober views of the Harvey's duo. Remember Sound Transit and the monorail: Unless you live near downtown Tacoma or hop aboard the infrequent Sounder line, you're not reaping the long-promised fruits of regional commuter rail just yet. MIKE SEELY

Hammered

Forbes has come out with its list of the top drinking cities in America. Milwaukee, home of Miller Brewing, comes in No. 1. Seattle, home of Anheuser-Busch subsidiary Red Hook Brewing, comes in No. 12—ahead of Las Vegas, Portland, and Miami—which lands us in the top third of American cities for boozing. We could do even better if it were still permissible to enjoy a smoke or two with our Manhattans while bellied up to the bar. PHILIP DAWDY

Derailed

The innovative city that originated one of America's first monorail systems and planned to build the country's longest monorail commuter line is back to square one. The Seattle Center Monorail, built for the 1962 World's Fair, is derailed again by what now seem the incurable problems of age. The two monorail cars have twice stalled and stranded passengers since returning to the Fifth Avenue rails after a nine-month hiatus. The interruption was for repairs caused by a sideswipe collision last year due to a track-redesign flaw. The repairs cost $3 million, but officials now say another $4.5 million is needed to keep the one-mile line in necessary shape, an unlikely prospect.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Monorail Project is almost officially out of business. The 13.7-mile ride in the sky was a dream turned nightmare, approved and later rejected by voters after projected costs soared to as much as $1 billion per mile (with interest). The skeleton crew at SMP has announced the agency will soon be running its own obituary in 15 local publications. All its property has been sold, the revenue-generating license tab tax was halted in June, and most of its business and legal proceedings are complete. The ads will give notice that any remaining legal claims against the monorail will have to be made by Dec. 4.

Jonathan Buchter, the system's chief operating officer, says the $110 million indebtedness left over after the project was aborted last year has been reduced to $1 million. By October, debt will be zero. Come Christmas, the monorail will take its place in transportation history alongside the R.H. Thomson Expressway and the Boeing SST as grand, space-age visions that never got off the ground. RICK ANDERSON

Oiled

There are many Seattle connections to BP's catastrophic shutdown of its Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, oil field, as detailed in Tony Hopfinger's cover story last week ("One Crude Dude," Aug. 23, 2006). But the Seattle-based company in the hottest seat right now may be Coffman Engineers, which allegedly failed to detect any serious problems with BP's Prudhoe maintenance in a report to the state of Alaska a couple years ago. Coffman's now been subpoenaed by the feds in their ongoing investigation of alleged malfeasances at Prudhoe Bay. MIKE SEELY

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