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Workers Rescued from Sewer Construction Site

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

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Last week, three construction workers became trapped 200 feet underground while working on the Deer Creek tunnel project in Shrewsbury, Missouri.


Sean Hadley, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Sewer District, reported that at the time of the incident, several workers from KCI Construction Co. were at the bottom of the hole working on a tunnel pump station project off Carr Lane.


Deer Creek Tunnel


The $150 million Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel project was developed to provide relief to several local communities from basement backups and sewer overflows. Historically, heavy rains in the area would overcharge the existing system, ultimately leading to these issues.


Extending approximately 4.3 miles from Clayton Road to Interstate 44, the new tunnel is expected to collect and temporarily store peak wastewater overflows along the Deer Creek sewer system.

For Phase I of the project, MSD was reported to have considered a number of construction options, including pumping excess flow to above-ground storage tank farms or building a network of open-cut sanitary sewers. However, given the heavily developed nature of the area and the number of surrounding roadways, the District determined that a deep storage tunnel would provide the least disruptive and most cost-effective solution.


In reaching a plan for the project, MSD selected Parsons as the project’s design engineers, SAK Construction as contractor and Black & Veatch as the construction manager.


In 2020, a tunnel boring machine dubbed “Mrs. Nancy” bored through deep rock some 150-250 feet below ground surface. 


By April of the following year, Sean Stone, a spokesperson for the utility, reported that the tunnel was “basically done,” however, plenty more work would need to be completed before the infrastructure could begin operations. Additional work to be completed includes finishing the tunnel with a concrete liner which will leave a diameter of approximately 19 feet within the tunnel.


The construction shaft, which will later serve as part of the pump station that drains the tunnel, was reported to be located at the downstream end of the tunnel near I-44 and Shrewsbury Avenue.


According to reports, the Deer Creek Tunnel is one of the biggest undertakings within MSD’s Project Clear initiative to “improve water quality and lessen wastewater concerns” in the region over multiple decades. The tunnel marks Project Clear’s largest expenditure to date, although it will only hold that title temporarily as the project stems from a much larger, $6 billion overall effort resulting from a decade-old legal settlement.


The settlement involved MSD and other parties, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after years of discharges sent hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into local waterways.


Other projects involved in the new system to mitigate these issues include the Jefferson Barracks Tunnel and the Maline Creek Storage Facility.


Recent Accident


Reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, three out of several KCI Construction Co. workers become trapped some 200 feet underground while working on the Deer Creek tunnel project. At the time of the incident, workers were trying to lower large concrete forms, which would be used to support the tunnel.


While Hadley reported that the workers were not fully pinned under the form, two of the workers received non-threatening injuries to their legs—one of whom was transported to a hospital for treatment, according to Kirkwood Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Zaitz.


Firefighters from multiple agencies were reported to have saved the workers from the tunnel by using the construction site’s lift baskets and additional equipment. Others onsite were evacuated from the scene.


While the exact nature and cause of the malfunction that caused the problem is unknown, an investigation has been launched by structural engineers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


Not the only incident to occur over the project’s timeline, in September 2019, a SAK Construction worker was killed after a crane swung and hit him.


The project is still expected to be completed by October 2022.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Project Management; Safety; Tunnel; Water/Wastewater

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