“Chelsea the Chomper” digging new tunnel for MSD

SOUTH ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – The Metropolitan Sewer District marked a milestone Monday by punching through limestone under South St. Louis. Crews got help from a hungry machine named Chelsea, while officials said increased bills will be balanced by more area jobs.

District spokesman Lance LeComb explained the extra construction equipment and video production crew on Virginia Avenue near Marceau Street.

“We can have live video when Chelsea breaks through and finishes the last few feet.”

Employees strained their necks and arms to snap pictures of a moment, three months in the making and beaming from two flat screen televisions.

“Chelsea’s been chompin’.”

He was talking about “Chelsea the Chomper”, a tunnel boring maching (TBM). She has been munching through bedrock and limestone since February 2014 to dig the Lemay Redundant Force Main, a new 3,200-foot pipe that will let the Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plant take in and treat more wastewater. After the Environmental Protection Agency said there were too many sewer backups in the St. Louis area, MSD started a $4.7-billion push to upgrade the system over 23 years.

“Over the past year, with the increased maintenance and projects, we have seen a 64-percent reduction in overcharged mains,” LeComb said. “Overcharged mains are mains that can’t handle any more rainwater.”

Chelsea could leave behind bigger bills for customers.

“Right now, the average bill is about $34 per month,” LeComb explained. “That’s scheduled to go up to over $40 a month in 2015.”

But, he said Chelsea could also bring a more jobs to the area.

“There have been studies that show a billion dollars of wastewater spending creates or sustains 20,000 jobs locally and throughout the region.”

Chelsea finished her work around 10 a.m. Monday. But, no one went home.

“This is just the first of many, many more.”

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