On one side of the Annisquam River Monday afternoon, a crane reeled in 30-foot metal sections of pipe into place.
On the other side, another crew fed almost 1,200 feet of blue, plastic PVC pipe into an opening. In the middle of the river, boats floated on by, experiencing no signs of construction.
But the city-hired contractors were set to complete their biggest feat in replacing an over 100-year-old water main, feeding a 20 inch water main into a hole drilled about 57 feet below sea level at its plateau and pulling the blue PVC pipe — short for polyvinyl chloride — out the other side.
“It’s like having baby, you’re nervous until you see all ten fingers and toes,” said City Environmental Engineer Larry Durkin. “We just want to see that blue pipe pop out the other side.”
The water main will serve some 70 percent of Gloucester’s residents, everyone on the island side, and should continue to carry water from Bond Hill to residents for at least 200 years, according to Durkin. It replaces the “beyond its useful life” Spooner Tunnel water main that runs parallel to Stacey Boulevard, Durkin said.
Pulling the pipe through was a continuous project that contractors estimated would last about seven hours.
The blue PVC pipe made up of 30-foot segments melted and fused into a nearly 1,200-foot length of tube, snaked slowly into the ground, Monday afternoon. But, before crews could even lay the pipe, an entire drilling process had ensued.
A series of metal rods — each wider than the last set, connected at flexible joints and led by a computerized foot — dug the carefully planned underground tunnel, beginning at the city’s water treatment plant on Essex Avenue, and breaking back through to the surface on Gloucester High School land, near the softball field.