Tunnel To Divert Waste From Beaches

As reported by John C. Drake of The Boston Globe.

New tunnel to divert waste from beaches

With excited workers and officials looking on, the nose of a massive boring machine pierced through the concrete wall of a newly excavated shaft by the Bayside Exposition Center yesterday morning, seeing its first natural light in nearly a year after a 2.1-mile subterranean journey underneath beaches in South Boston.

The incessant grinding and the crashing of rock and concrete slabs on the shaft floor should have been music to the ears of area beachgoers, who have suffered through an unusually high number of days in which beaches were closed because of bacteria from sewer overflow. State officials are spending $215 million to build this sewage and storm water storage tunnel and associated facilities to fix the problem.

“Instead of the storm water and the combined flows, which includes human waste, going onto the beach, it will go into this tunnel,” said Fred Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. “It’s perfectly suited to deal with the negative impacts we’ve seen this year.”

The 19-foot-wide North Dorchester Bay Combined Sewer Overflow Tunnel will catch storm water from all but the most severe storms, combine it with sewer overflow, and push it all toward Deer Island. The tunnel runs from Pleasure Bay to Bayside Expo, passing underneath the M Street, L Street, and Carson beaches.

“With the billions of dollars that have been spent on wastewater treatment in this country, it is simply unacceptable that we have so many beautiful days with closed beaches,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office.

Varney worked with the MWRA to develop the tunnel plan. “This will go a long way to ensuring that citizens have access to clean beaches on a consistent basis.”

The Department of Conservation and Recreation closes South Boston beaches about 21 times a year, but officials say the closures have been more frequent this year because of high rain totals. Already this summer, portions of Carson Beach have been closed on 23 days, said Donna Rheaume, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The red flag signaling a closed beach usually flies the day after a major storm, even when the sun is shining. That should happen no more than once a year after the project is completed, officials and environmental advocates said.

“The beach closures we’ve had this summer when we’ve had these major storm events really disadvantage the residents, so people who live in the city have fewer recreation opportunities than people who live in the suburbs or on the coast,” said Ian A. Bowles, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “This will really solve that problem.”

The machine trudged about 88 feet a day, with a high of 104 feet, as it proceeded underneath Day Boulevard and the beaches. It arrived behind the South Boston State Police barracks yesterday about five months ahead of schedule, officials said.

Crews were most concerned about the potential for sinkholes as it bored through the soft rock, and two did occur. One sinkhole developed in the street, requiring a swift patching job, and a second happened on the Pleasure Bay beach, which required repacking of sand.

The project, which began in September, is expected to take four years to complete. It is part of an $850 million-dollar effort to clean Boston Harbor by redirecting the sewer systems that dump into it.

One environmental advocate called the tunnel’s completion exciting.

“This thing can’t be completed fast enough for us,” said Bruce Berman, spokesman for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. “There aren’t that many warm days in New England, and the public needs to be able to enjoy every one they get.”

The completion of the tunnel does not mean Boston beaches are in the clear. The state still has to construct an odor-control facility for the tunnel and a pump station to extract water from the storage tunnel after a storm. The system should be completed by 2011, Laskey said.

For the full article head to The Boston Globe.