Sanitation crews to have deep tunnel cleaned by Christmas

MILWAUKEE -- Veolia Environmental Services employees descended more than 300 feet into Milwaukee's deep tunnel for a first time cleaning on Thursday, November 8th. Crews will spend six days a week for several weeks clearing debris away from the deep tunnel system's expensive fans.

Joyce Harms with Veolia Environmental Services says employees will use a specially-designed pontoon boat to push 18 years worth of debris onto a conveyor, and then into a bucket. The debris will then be hoisted to the surface.

Before the pontoon can head into the sea of debris, crews have to clear enough debris to get the pontoon a few feet into the water. 

"Think about when the lake freezes over and you need to break the ice up, so that you can navigate through," Harms said.

"We're cleaning out the floating debris that accumulates at the end of the deep tunnel. It's bottles, it's tennis balls, it's stuff that can fit into a storm drain out in the street. They estimate there's about 800 cubic yards," Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District Public Information Manager Bill Graffin said.

Graffin told FOX6 MMSD's 10-year contract with Veolia includes cleaning the deep tunnel once a decade.

"There's a lot down there, but really not that much when you consider the size of deep tunnel at 28 and a half miles," Graffin said.

Veolia anticipates the cleaning to be finished by Christmas.