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Greenville Business Magazine

Digging Into The Tunnel Project

Jul 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By John Jeter

Little James Anthony is worried about Tatu, the baby giraffe who’s sticking his neck out a little for Greenville’s booming growth. James is 3 years old—two years older than the Greenville Zoo’s male calf—and the child’s dad, Jay, says he and his family are a bit concerned about one of the city’s most ambitious infrastructure projects: the Big Dig.

“I take my little boy all the time,” the elder Anthony, 33, says of their trips to the zoo near their home in Cleveland Forest, where the lawyer serves as president of the neighborhood association. “I’m sure he wants to make sure Tatu isn’t kept awake all night by the drilling.”

Anthony’s referring to the Reedy River Basin Sewer Tunnel, a 1.3-mile-long, 10-foot-diameter shaft from Cleveland Park to Mayberry Park, near Hudson Street. Construction on the Renewable Water Resources, or ReWa, project could last up to 2 ½ years, with eight months of that taking place 100 feet below Broad Street. 

“We just want to make sure it doesn’t disturb the animals,” says Jeff Bullock, the zoo’s administrator for 10 years. “And we definitely don’t want any falling ill from becoming too stressed.”

At the same time, Bullock and Anthony appreciate ReWa’s public preparations.

“ReWa’s been real good to work with,” Bullock says. “They would stop everything if I said we’ve got an issue, and they would fix it and then move forward. They want to be good neighbors. They wouldn’t do anything to hurt the community.”

He points out that primates, among the 14-acre zoo’s 80 species of some 200 animals, can make some serious noise themselves.  Kumar and Lana, the Sumatran orangutans, can bellow at 100 decibels, as loud as chatting lawnmowers.Bullock says he’ll measure the startup blasting and when cranes and trucks remove rock from the tunnel. Then, he adds, “I wish I had my monitor with all the schoolchildren out here screaming, because that’s probably louder than anything coming out of this.”

ReWa’s Senior Engineering Project Manager Jason Gillespie and Jeff Wells, associate vice president at Black & Veatch, the engineering company that designed the project, say they’ve held multiple meetings with city officials, neighborhood associations, businesses, and other stakeholders.

“They have been good about inviting us to the public forums they’ve been doing around here,” Anthony says. 

The project actually starts with the construction of a 140-space parking lot on land where the park’s volleyball courts used to be. The new lot will offset the temporary loss of 150 spaces, which will be used as a staging area. Anthony says the additional lot should help ease overcrowding at the park.

Most work will occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. when the city’s noise ordinance is most relaxed, officials say. Outside of those hours, sound levels may be no higher than 55 dB—as loud as a normal conversation. 

After the blasting, a giant drill bores 40 feet per day through granitic gneiss; the rock’s seven-of-10 hardness rating ensures the interior 7-foot-diameter fiberglass pipe will last its expected 100 years.

Black & Veatch, the Kansas-based firm whose $123 million Charleston tunnel earned numerous awards, considered 18 plans here before whittling to three. Officials chose the more expensive of those options.

“We decided to spend more money doing what we think is a more public-responsible thing,” Gillespie says. “That’s a part of the message—this is the best environmental, the least public-impacting choice that they picked. It’s going to cost more money to do it, but it’s going to last longer.”

A Black & Veatch study says the “comparative lifecycle cost” for the $48.9 million tunnel comes in at just under $40 million. That compares with a $52.6 million lifecycle price tag for the least expensive option, a $35.2 million system of storage tanks that require regular servicing and would emit more odors than anything that might waft from the zoo.

Bullock says it’s simple enough to move skittish animals inside their barns if blasting or rock-hauling gets loud. He adds with a chuckle, “Some of the keepers might go crazy. No, we’ve got a good staff, we’ll keep a close watch on ’em.”

And humans will keep a watch on construction. “They’ve told us told us they’ll do what they can in terms of the disruption to us, in terms of the hours they’re running,” Anthony says. “We certainly plan to keep an eye on it, and we’re certainly not going to be shy about letting them know if they’re a disruption.”