Workers bow their heads and kneel in prayer as Cardinal Wuerl prays at a 	Dec. 12 ceremony at which he blessed a massive tunnel boring machine that will tunnel under the Anacostia River and will eventually lead to significantly improved water quality for the District of Columbia. The tunnel boring will be part of the largest construction project in the District since the building of Metro. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Workers bow their heads and kneel in prayer as Cardinal Wuerl prays at a Dec. 12 ceremony at which he blessed a massive tunnel boring machine that will tunnel under the Anacostia River and will eventually lead to significantly improved water quality for the District of Columbia. The tunnel boring will be part of the largest construction project in the District since the building of Metro. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
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DC Water has a vision of a cleaner Anacostia River— teeming with wildlife and surrounded by people enjoying nature. The new giant tunnel boring machine “Nannie,” blessed by Cardinal Wuerl at a ceremony on Dec. 12, will help make that dream a reality by eliminating 98 percent of sewer overflows to the river.

At the christening outside of RFK Stadium, DC Water employees, contractors and community members gathered to see the bright blue and green machine that will soon move 6.5 million cubic feet of soil and tunnel around 52 to 64 feet per day. “I sit here and I look at Nannie so beautifully painted and I know from experience that this is the last time she’s going to look that good,” said Kenneth J. Kopocis of the Environmental Protection Agency, “but the reason she won’t look that good is because of the tremendous work she’s going to do to help the Anacostia River.”

George S. Hawkins, the CEO and general manager of DC Water, explained that the 560 ton machine will be dropped 10 stories underground to create a tunnel that will eventually meet up with tunnel boring machine Ladybird near the Nationals Ballpark. Then the two billion gallons of rainfall and sewage that now go into the Anacostia will instead be conveyed via the tunnel to a wastewater treatment plant. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2025, but some parts of Anacostia will benefit from the project by 2018.

Ward 7 resident Dennis Chestnut expressed his gratitude at the project because of his lifelong connection to the body of water. “The Anacostia River is where I learned to how swim as a child and my children couldn’t benefit from the same experience I had,” he said. As executive director of Groundwork Anacostia River, he wants that to change. “I’ve committed myself to restoring the health of the Anacostia River, and I’m so excited about the Nannie because this is going to make a tremendous difference in achieving that goal,” said Chestnut.

Postponed due to Marion Barry’s funeral, the ceremony was originally scheduled on the feast day of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners and tunnelers. “I’m told by those who do this work that none of these drillings take place without St. Barbara placed somewhere protectively watching over everyone,” said Cardinal Wuerl, who blessed a St. Barbara medal and statue along with   Nannie. “Today we’re simply going to ask a blessing on the work of this great machine, but more importantly, God’s protective blessing on all those who do the work,” he said.

The cardinal thanked many of the neon-vested and hard-hat clad DC Water employees for their hard and important work, while also joking with them, saying, “I wore my hard hat too,” pointing to his red biretta. After the prayer, workers took pictures in front of Nannie along with DC Water mascot Wendy the Water Drop.

The tunnel boring machine was named after Nannie Helen Burroughs, a 20th century African American educator who worked near the Anacostia River and founded the National Training School for Women and Girls.  Nannie the machine will also be an educator in its role with Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, which has adopted the machine in a partnership with DC Water.

“It’s real-world connection to what they’re learning in the classes,” said director Olatundun Teyibo, who attended the ceremony with her students. “We will be able to come out and visit, and (the engineers) will come inside the school and offer in-class support.”