Pipeline being installed without disrupting environment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 9, 2003

Using a sophisticated technology, CH2M HILL Constructors, Inc. have magically traversed Lake Prince by passing a 24&uot; water line under the bed of the lake, without a whisper of disturbance to the environment. The project, still being constructed, will carry water from Lake Prince, down Girl Scout Road, Lake Prince Drive, Providence Road, Kings Fork Road, and Pitch Kettle Road, and terminating at Lake Meade. Total distance is about 22,000 feet. The project, the victim of delays from rain and freezing conditions, as well as the failure of a weld on a vital piece of equipment, will be completed in a few weeks.

The work was precipitated by the long drought and Portsmouth’s lack of adequate water for its residential and commercial needs. Governor Mark Warner supported the project, but it took the cooperation of Norfolk that had the water, Portsmouth that needed the water, and Suffolk that owns the land through which the water must travel, to work together to make the project a reality.

One of Suffolk’s representatives is Al Moore, director of Public Utilities, whose staff wisely worked with the contractor and the Western Tidewater Water Authority to include the installation of a parallel water line for the city’s future use. That part of the project will be in the section that runs down Lake Prince Road. This aspect of the plan grew out of the WTWA’s involvement with the three cities in planning the project.

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Suffolk Mayor E. Dana Dickens III said &uot;This is a grand example of regional cooperation, resulting from the Portsmouth need for a dependable source of emergency water and the Norfolk surplus. The needs were satisfied with Suffolk’s assistance, coupled with the service of the WTWA.&uot; Further assistance was provided by the office of Governor Warner’s drought coordinator.

Al Moore echoed Dickens’ sentiments, adding that the cooperation had also minimized the effect of the project on the economy, and helped to mitigate the effects of a future drought.

Matt Ridgeway, project superintendent for the job, described the materials used by saying that the 24&uot; circumference sections of pipe are constructed of black, high density polyethylene, are 50′ in length, and weigh about 3,250 pounds each. The individual sections are fitted into a machine that heats the two ends to be joined. It then clamps the two pieces together until they cool, at which time they are not merely joined, but are actually one continuous unit of pipe. Danny Drake, fusion specialist of Hughes Supplies Company, performs that work with a specially designed piece of mobile equipment. Some pipe sections are 30&uot; in diameter – an adaptation that was made to allow for possible future use of the Norfolk water supply by Suffolk.

A representative of Norfolk continuously monitors all of the companies involved in the project, because any runoff from the job would drain into Lake Prince polluting Norfolk’s most important water source. Tony Hool, who fills that job, said that even though the workers are very careful, &uot;I sometimes have to prod them, just a little.&uot; That care can be seen when run off water is trapped in huge basins to prevent its draining into Lake Prince. This wastewater is vacuumed into a tanker truck so it can be disposed of safely. Complicated silt fences are installed where major work is being performed. But most ingenious is the passing of that pipeline under Lake Prince. A similar method was used in 1988 when a water line was passed under the Nansemond River to supply the Hill Point Farms area.

Using a directional drill, WAJO Construction Co. is able to run the pipe more than 27′ under the bed of the lake. That’s 47’below the surface of the water. Starting about 150′ from the edge of the lake, workers send a drill into the ground at an angle that will pass it into the subsoil below the bottom of the lake. The drill is monitored electronically so the operator knows where the head is at all times. By sending electronic commands, the angle of the drill is changed so that it moves on a predetermined path under the lake, and finally turns upward to emerge on the opposite side of the lake, about 150′ from the shoreline. The auger has a section of 2-1/2&uot; pipe behind it, followed by many more sections of pipe, each threaded onto the one ahead of it. This continuous chain of pipes is attached to the extraction machine. Using increasingly larger augers that are continually being revolved, the hole gets wider and wider as the augers are pulled through the tunnel. Eventually the tunnel becomes large enough to accept the 24&uot; pipe. The entire process takes from 16 to 24 hours.

The final pull, in which the huge black pipe is drawn through the tunnel, takes about 6 to 8 hours. During this particular pull, a fisherman was seen on the lake, unaware that a giant pipeline was being passed underneath him, demonstrating the lack of impact on the environment. Unfortunately, during this final operation a factory weld on part of the extraction equipment broke. This resulted in more than 400′ of pipe becoming stuck under the ground and the lake. The length of pipe, weighing about 12 tons, had to be drawn back from the tunnel while repairs were made, causing an unforeseen delay.

Wade Vaughan, who praised the cooperation of residents who travel all five of the affected roads for their patience with his workers, is operations manager for prime contractor CH2M Hill. The company has its main office in Denver, Colo., but the Suffolk project is being coordinated from its Virginia Beach office. Vaughan said the total distance of the loop under Lake Prince is about 900 feet.

&uot;None of the water,&uot; he said, &uot;will be for local use.&uot; It will be untreated water, much of which is coming from Lake Gaston. No taps will be made to the line at any point between the Norfolk and Portsmouth lakes. &uot;Suffolk’s parallel 12&uot; pipe on Lake Prince Drive is for future use. Suffolk’s just taking advantage of the construction to save the cost of digging again, and its pipes will be for treated water.&uot;

As an aside, Vaughan said he likes what he has seen in Suffolk, and is considering a move to Suffolk from his Virginia Beach home, &uot;after my son graduates from high school.&uot; Suffolk gets a high tech pipeline and maybe a new family, too.