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Massive sewer project takes path beneath Schuylkill River

By Pam Cunningham, Reporter
Published On: Apr 09 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 10 2013 06:03:27 PM CDT

The Reading Public Works department has its own version of the "big dig" happening under the Schuylkill River.

READING, Pa. -

The Reading Public Works department has its own version of the "big dig" happening under the Schuylkill River.

It's a project for the sewage system, and it uses a high-tech tunneling machine that's not supposed to harm the environment above. 

It takes a lot of construction workers and some heavy duty gear to carefully lift a 32,000 pound machine. 

"The device is a micro-tunneling machine that they're going to put down in the entry pit," said Ralph Johnson, waste water manager.  

And once in place it will dig big under the Schuylkill River for a new sewage main.

"This will help us quite a bit. We'll have a stable situation for this forced main," said Charlie Jones, Reading Public Works director. "We won't have to worry about those leaks again."

There have been three major breaks spewing sewage in the river.  It's been 60 years since the last main was installed.

"In the old days, they used to do what they call open trench cut where they would build a dam cut a trench halfway across the river lay the pipe in the trench," said Johnson.

The tunneling machine will be about six feet below the river's floor bed.

"The fish and the micro life in the stream bed, all the other aquatic life should not be disturbed in any way," said Johnson.

Over the next several weeks, Johnson said the Schuylkill River will look exactly the same way it does now. 

Eventually, the tunneling machine will be raised on the other side of the river where there is currently a pile of gravel. 

"And there will be a casing in the ground. They'll have to lay a sewer pipe, 42-inch in diameter, sewer pipe through that casing," said Johnson. "I don't think Reading has experienced a project like this to date." 

But first, the tunneling machine must be lowered into the 40-foot deep pit.

"To be able to work with things of this size and hit targets so exactly is just amazing," said Jones.