Into the Belly of the Beast

On Friday, May 17th, the Task Force led a group of tourists down more than 300 feet below lake level into the Deep Tunnel Project.  With the cooperation of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation Department, we were able to arrange a bus tour of both the tunnel and the ending reservoir. 

Starting at their Calumet waste water treatment facility, staff of  MWRD took the group down in an elevator the  portion of the tunnel project full of huge pipes, metal catwalks, pumps and electrical panels.  The air in the room was a tad musty smelling even though the ventilation system was pumping consistently.  Here we were told how the system worked, how the sewer water flowed through it and about the safety measures in place should a pipe ever leak or burst.

Next we headed over the Thornton Quarry, a quarry that has been in business since the early 1900’s and the intended designation for flood waters.  The quarry contains Silurian reefs which formed when the Michigan Basin was covered in sea water more than 400 million years ago.

Today the Quarry consists of three large quarries connected by tunnels.  It produces aggregates,stone, sand, metallurgical stone, mineral filler and several products worth more than $40 million dollars a year.  Some of the products using the ground rock include concrete mix, fertilizers and asphalt coatings.  The southern quarry will be turned into the deep tunnel reservoir once the tunnel finishes connecting, the sides are reconfigured and the connecting tunnels are blocked in 2015. 

The bus ride down the steep incline into the quarry was a little hairy. Once on the bottom, our bus was dwarfed  by the height of the steep side walls and it could have easily driven through any one of the two feeding tunnels that were still in the progress of being blasted out.  Our guide, engineer Kevin Fitzpatrick, gave us a detailed overview of the project.  Because we weren’t allowed off of the bus, Kevin disembarked to scoop up some of the 400 million old rock to pass out as mementos.

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