BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Two large public-works projects have drawn a lot of attention: the upgrade of Canal Street, arguably the worst roadway in Salem, and the proposed installation of underground electric transmission cables through the heart of the city.
While not in the spotlight, there is a $20 million project in Salem Harbor that ranks right alongside: the replacement of 1-mile-long, corroding pipes that carry raw sewage under the water from Marblehead to the South Essex Sewerage District Plant on the Salem waterfront.
SESD officials are racing the clock to get this massive project done by spring.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” said Alan Taubert Jr., executive director of SESD.
He said he hoped to be done by Memorial Day, or before the start of the recreational boating season.
Taubert and his daunting project cleared one hurdle last week by securing an OK from the Salem Conservation Commission. That is the first of many approvals or permits needed from local, state and federal agencies.
Both iron pipes are “severely corroded,” Taubert told members of the Conservation Commission. One pipe sprang a sewage leak last March, triggering an inspection of both pipes, which have been in the harbor since the 1970s.
Barbara Warren, executive director of Salem Sound Coastwatch, a group that monitors the coast and harbor, urged the local board and other agencies to act swiftly to avoid a catastrophe.
“All the pipes are very distressed, and we could have an eruption of sewage into the harbor at any moment,” she told the ConCom.
The old iron pipes will be replaced with two high-density, polyethylene pipes that will extend across the harbor and through the federal channel, a deep, harbor-access route.
Commission members quizzed SESD representatives about eel grass beds, shellfish, winter flounder and a number of other concerns raised by the underwater construction project.
The board also asked about the construction timeline and was told of the long and complex permitting process.
“We’ve been moving with all diligent speed to get these (pipes) replaced as soon as possible,” Taubert replied.
The SESD facility on Fort Avenue, next to the city’s power plant, treats sewage from Salem, Marblehead, Peabody, Beverly and Danvers.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.