Future site of Atlanta’s largest park to hold emergency water supply

By GEORGE MONTGOMERY

ATLANTA — Atlanta will soon have an emergency water supply, and Piedmont Park could be dethroned as the city’s flagship green space.

The Westside Reservoir Park is situated on the site of the abandoned Bellwood Quarry, north of Bankhead and approximately four miles from the heart of Midtown. While the park is completely undeveloped and in its infancy planning stages, construction on the central reservoir, which will provide Atlanta with a backup water supply, is well underway.

The quarry has been inactive since 2007 and, as a reservoir, will eventually hold more than 1 billion gallons of water, said Lillian Govus, director of communication and community relations for the Department of Watershed Management.

It’s important for Atlanta to secure access to a safe backup supply of drinking water. The city maintains a three- to five-day supply of water, which would be depleted quickly in the event of an emergency.

While the cost to convert the disused quarry to a reservoir is steep, the $280 million price tag is worth it, Govus said. If the city were to lose access to clean drinking water, it would cost local businesses an estimated $100 million daily, Govus said.

“A project like this pays for itself in three days if a situation like that ever occurred,” she said. “It will ensure that businesses have the infrastructure they need.”

It will be a couple of years before the city can rely on the backup water supply.

Construction of a five-mile tunnel that will supply the reservoir with water from the Chattahoochee River is under construction. This 12.5-foot diameter tunnel will be drilled by a custom-built machine being designed out-of-state.

Chunks of the boring machine came barreling down Interstate 75 on 78 tractor-trailers from Ohio this summer.

The Department of Watershed Management plans to host an unveiling ceremony and launch a campaign for the community to pick a name for the behemoth.

The Watershed Department is excited to showcase the machine and the inside of the quarry.

“It’s a chance to visualize something people normally won’t get to see since it will be 400 feet underwater,” Govus said.

Once all the pieces have arrived in Atlanta, the machine will be constructed at the bottom of the quarry.

“It’s a huge piece of equipment,” Govus said. “It will be more than 400 feet long — longer than a football field.”

The machine will begun drilling at a public christening in September and will complete its trek 400 feet under Marietta Street and the neighborhoods of West Atlanta in 2018.

The city plans to fill the reservoir with the allotted excess daily draw from the Chattahoochee River, meaning it could take six months to a year for the reservoir to be full.

Development on the Westside Park, which will surround the completed reservoir, should begin shortly after the reservoir is full and connected to the Atlanta water system.

The Beltline has played a pivotal role in the rampant development near Atlanta’s old Fourth Ward. The Eastside Trail connects portions of the historic Fourth Ward Park to Piedmont Park, Ponce City Market, Krog Street Market and the Inman Park neighborhood.

The explosive growth experienced around the Eastside Trail could be mirrored on the Westside.

Atlanta Beltline people are excited for the Westside Park project and recognize its “spectacular” potential, said Ericka Davis, Beltline communications and media relations director.

“Final land acquisition and park design [will be] completed by the end of fiscal year 2018,” Davis said. “Final park construction [will be] completed sometime in the following five-year period.”

While the Department of Watershed Management will operate the waterworks facility and retain ownership of the reservoir and land immediately surrounding it, the Parks and Recreation Department will own and manage the rest of the park’s green space.

Office of Parks director Doug Voss declined to comment.

Beltline organizers understand the importance of the Westside Park in completing the 22-mile paved walking trail loop around the city. While the group is excited for the future, Davis says they’re following the Parks and Recreation Department’s lead for timing and development of the park.

General plans for the Westside Park were submitted alongside the Beltline’s initial proposals in 2009, but the city has yet to move forward with any official development plans.

“Subsequent detailed master plans have not been created and will be needed before anything happens,” Davis said.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond formed a city council committee to discuss planning for the Westside Park. Bond did not respond for comment.

With more than 350 acres of land set aside for the Westside Park, it’s slated to become the largest park in the city. The city’s iconic Piedmont Park is approximately 190 acres, roughly half the size of the planned development on the Westside, four miles away.

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