What’s happening with Westside Park in northwest Atlanta?

Digging a hole (and a tunnel)

What’s happening with Westside Park in northwest Atlanta?

Photograph courtesy of the City of Atlanta

Next month, crews will put the final touches on a 350-foot deep reservoir holding 2.4 billion gallons of water Atlanta can tap in case of an emergency. Later on, they’ll cut the ribbon on the surrounding park, the city’s largest.

Why did the city buy a hole in the ground?
In 2006, Atlanta officials were staring down a catastrophe in the making: If the city lost access to water during a drought or disaster, it only had three days of reserve drinking water. Under then Mayor Shirley Franklin, the city purchased a 137-acre shuttered granite quarry near the Fulton County Jail for $40 million. The following year, a drought drained down Lake Lanier, the main source of water for metro Atlanta and the city proper, and the city ramped up efforts to build the reservoir. A park—nearly 100 acres larger than Piedmont Park—would surround the pond, bringing much-needed greenspace to an industrial part of town that was then becoming popular with developers and residents. “Before, it was just a big hole in the middle of the city,” says Ade Abon, the senior director of capital projects at the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. “[Now,] it’s going to keep us alive and provide us with a park.”

How was it built?
In 2015, the city purchased a $10 million tunnel-boring machine—later named “Driller Mike” in honor of the nom de rap of Atlanta hip-hop celebrity and businessman Michael Render—and crews began blasting earth and digging a 10-foot-wide, five-mile-long, concrete-lined hole snaking from the Chattahoochee River to the bottom of the quarry and ending at the city’s two water treatment plants on the city’s west side. As many as 275 workers were on site at one time. The quarry, which has been used as a set for shows like The Walking Dead and Stranger Things, didn’t hold too many surprises when crews pumped out groundwater that had collected at the bottom of the hole. “As we drained the existing pool of water, one worker found a car door,” Abon says. “We didn’t find gold.” In addition, crews built a 25,000-square-foot pumphouse, with machines from Germany, to send water from the reservoir to treatment plants when needed.

You mentioned a park?
Work is all but finished on the relatively simple first phase of the greenspace named Westside Park (think an overlook of the reservoir and city skyline, playground, parking, and native plant landscaping). It also has a connection to the Proctor Creek Greenway, a multi-use trail that will eventually connect to the Chattahoochee. Later phases will add three or four overlooks, an amphitheater, and athletic fields. Keeping the park green and leafy also helps water quality, Abon says; trees and grass help filter runoff water, putting less stress on the treatment plants before it heads to people’s homes.

What happened to Driller Mike?
“Driller Mike dug through five miles of rock,” Abon says. “After that, the machine was basically done.” The city sold the 400-foot-long machine to the construction contractor and made a little cash back.

This article appears in our September 2020 issue.