The city of Portland has installed fencing along a portion of the Back Cove trail for a new sewer separation project that’s part of a larger effort to reduce wastewater runoff.

The fencing will limit pedestrians, and ultimately bicyclists and drivers, too, from accessing the work site, which runs south along Baxter Boulevard from a point near Cheverus High School, turning onto Dartmouth Street. Once completed, it’ll close another of the city’s antiquated combined sewer-stormwater overflow locations, which discharge polluted water into the bay through runoff.

“We know there’s a lot of construction happening in this area right now, but these sewer separation projects are critical infrastructure projects to stop sewer overflows from going into Back Cove and Casco Bay,” city officials said in an email news update. “Thanks for your patience!”

City officials said the fencing will include gates allowing access to crosswalks at the stairs leading to Clifton Street, which runs roughly parallel to Baxter Boulevard. More information about traffic control in the area will arrive in coming weeks.

The sewer projects will help Portland comply with federal environmental requirements, protect water quality and improve road conditions through rebuilding, officials said.

Just south of the project, closer to Interstate 295, passersby have noticed a large steel structure taking shape in a previously empty field near Back Cove. It’s not a hotel or condominiums, as some supposed, but the structural support for an excavation to make way for four giant underground storage tanks that can hold 3.5 million gallons of sewer and stormwater.

A man runs on the Back Cove Trail alongside Baxter Boulevard in Portland on Saturday. The fencing is part of a new sewer separation project. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

This project, too, will help reduce sewer overflows. It’s funded by wastewater fees, which are based on water use by homeowners and businesses.

The city held two neighborhood meetings in early 2020 to inform the public about the storage conduit. Construction will begin Tuesday, with approval already in hand from city planning officials and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Sargent Corporation, an engineering company out of Old Town, was the low bidder at $27.2 million.

The project calls for the installation of a 10- to 12-foot-wide box conduit along Baxter Boulevard, along with a new storm drain system and a revamped roadway, with new pavement, fresh paint and a redone gutter.

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