Pontoons Sunk, But Not Hearts -- Officials Unruffled As Sections Of Old-I-90 Bulge Go `Glub' Off Renton

When a pair of 300-foot concrete pontoons from the old Interstate 90 floating bridge bulge sank to the bottom of Lake Washington near Renton last Sunday, the event went virtually unnoticed by officialdom.

Even Renton residents - who have complained for nine years about the unsightliness of the old pontoons - did not notify government officials of the sinking.

State Department of Ecology officials did not learn of it until Tuesday when a reporter started asking questions.

The Ecology Department, charged with guarding the purity of Lake Washington water, is supposed to receive word of events that threaten it.

The state Department of Natural Resources wasn't notified either, nor was the Coast Guard.

Since the day the pontoons were moored 400 yards from the lake shore off Renton, residents of the city's East Hill have griped.

``We have had a lot of complaints about them since they were moored there,'' said Renton Park Director Sam Chastain. ``They are ugly. People don't want to look out there and see them.

``I was looking at them Friday, and I told one of our men that it looked like they were sinking.''

On Sunday, someone noticed two of the three had, in fact, gone down and phoned a television station.

``It's one of those weird cases,'' said Jonna Van Dyk, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Department. ``As it turns out, there was no spill, and there is no immediate threat to the environment.

``The Department of Natural Resources owns the land and the problem,'' she said. ``But we do have a long-term interest and expect to be involved when they are raised. Plans for the raising will have to be approved by DOE.''

Today, only the tops of the streetlights on the pontoons are above water. The lake there is about 40 feet deep.

The pontoons were among five taken from the I-90 bridge when the bulge drawspan in the center of the bridge was removed in 1981. They were purchased by Pontoons Associates, a Seattle investment firm, and have since been resold.

Two have been sold again and moved. The three that remain were bought last July by Port West Inc. of Ketchikan, Alaska, according to David Bortz of the DNR's marine real-estate division. Bortz said Port West has a moorage lease with Foss Maritime, which holds a long-term lease from DNR for the site.

Donna Gellings, speaking for Port West, said divers hope to examine the pontoons today and begin an investigation into why they sank.

She said the sunken pontoons were lashed together and that the third pontoon was in no danger. Each weighs about 2,000 tons. All three are expected to be moved to Ketchikan for use in a waterfront development.