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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 11) – Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco trekked to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and marched through ankle-high wet clay in a tropical downpour Thursday to inspect a technological feat in pollution control.

Thanks to Environmental Protection Agency funding, the Northern Mariana Islands is on track for the first horizontal wastewater outfall pipeline at Saipan's Agingan Wastewater Treatment Plant.

At a cost of US$4 million, the new pipeline will carry treated wastewater away from the cliff line, not polluting the shore or negatively impacting the coastal reefs.

On Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency's Pat Young and Mike Lee met with officials from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., the contractors and the construction management team.

In the first project of its type in Micronesia, a drilling technique is used called horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

Once the waste is treated, the byproduct water (effluent) is discharged into the ocean through the horizontal outfall pipeline where the salt water further treats it or kills bacteria.

The goal is to discharge the byproduct so deep within the ocean that waves will not push it back to the cliff line or keep it at coral reefs. This provides a better dilution of the effluent discharge into the ocean water, which reduces and/or eliminates nutrient-rich effluent that would otherwise contribute to algal blooms along the cliff.

Since Environmental Protection Agency funded the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands project, a similar HDD pipeline is also being drilled in Guam.

Saipan's new outfall pipeline is a total of 1,100 feet long-about 800 feet out and away from the cliff and 104 feet under the waves or sea level.

The project's contractor, GPPG Inc. began drilling in May and, despite hitting what might be termed a sink hole in the floor of the ocean, the drilling project is now nearly on schedule.

The pilot hole is complete and on Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency officials watched as the crew began enlarging the 1,100 foot long hole-the second phase of the drilling project that takes two weeks.

Once enlarged, the pipeline will be inserted and professional divers will inspect the ocean floor prior to usage and install cement valves on the ocean floor.

Of the US$4 million required for this environmental protection project, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded Commonwealth Uitlities Corp US$3.1 million, with the balance currently being financed by the utility.

The Agingan Wastewater Treatment Plant was opened in 1993 and biologically treats three million gallons of wastes per day from southern Saipan.

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