Monday, May 11, 2015

"Wow, it's just so huge"


   When Brad Sutter was growing up nearby, of course he saw the Thornton Quarry. You can hardly miss it.
     "I've driven past here hundreds and hundred of times," said Sutter, of the series of vast limestone pits flanking I-80/94 just south of Chicago. "As a child, you're 'Wow, it's just so huge.' In my mind it's comparable to the Grand Canyon, though I've never seen it."

     So it was with great satisfaction that the 24-year-old's first job for the Walsh Group was Safety Engineer, making sure that everybody who descends into the Grand Canyon of the Southern Suburbs comes back out again.
     "Being able to go from seeing it my entire life, to work in it and make sure people go home to their families, it's extremely rewarding," he said.
     So you need a hard hat—rocks tumble—and an M20 oxygen rescue pack, since there are massive tunnels to venture into. And neon yellow vests, to help prevent being driven over by heavy equipment. And the right boots, which nobody had mentioned beforehand. It didn't matter that his guests included Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and Adel Awad, senior civil engineer for the MWRD, which for the past two years has been turning the north lobe of the Thornton Quarry into the Thornton Composite Reservoir. Sutter had us cool our heels until the proper footgear was sent down from the front office.
     "Just doing my job," he said.

     Not that I minded waiting at the bottom of this unimaginably huge man-made basin, 2,000 feet across, 1,000 feet wide and 300 feet deep, which Hanson Material Services created over the past several decades by removing 76 million tons of limestone. Soon this tableau will be at least partially hidden under billions of gallons of water that would otherwise wind up in the basements of homes or in the Little Calumet River.
     "This reservoir is going to protect 14 communities, about 500,000 people, hopefully, it can save about $40 million in damages to the communities, annually," said Spyropoulos.
     Just having a big pit is not enough, however. it isn't just a matter of hooking it up to the 109-mile Deep Tunnel network and turning a spigot. You have to prep: about $400 million worth of construction was needed to create the reservoir infrastructure. Limestone is porous, for instance, and the polluted storm and waste water would leach back into the water table if the reservoir weren't sealed like a shower stall.
     "The challenge here, you have to grout the four boundaries, to create a kind of wall, a curtain," said Awad.
     That was done by digging holes, hundreds of feet deep, every 20 feet or so around the perimeter and filling them with grout.
     How much grout?
     "A lot," said Awad. Think a tube six inches wide and 150 miles long. "That spreads and forms a barrier." 
       
     Controlling the force of the incoming water is another challenge. Inside the intake tunnel will be four enormous steel gates, two feet thick, costing $7 million each, moving on bearings the size of garbage can lids. The 30 foot wide intake tunnel is divided into two channels, to reduce the water's force, and outside there is what amounts to a blast plate, designed to deflect the force of the flow and keep it from chewing up the reservoir bottom.
     "During a storm, when the flow come through the tunnel, it's huge force," said Awad. "You need the structure to be stable. This concrete slab will be six feet thick; it will diffuse the energy."
     The water will only be held temporarily at the reservoir; it'll flow by gravity to the Calumet Treatment Plant. Last year the MWRD extracted 200,000 tons of what it tastefully calls "biosolids"—fertilizer that ends up on park district golf courses and athletic fields.
     Back at the office, since one doesn't often get the chance, I phoned Hanson Materials to ask about gravel.
     "Our biggest customers are concrete and asphalt producers," said Bob Sapp, quarry's plant superintendent, who has worked there 27 years. "We're continuing to mine it, and have many years of reserves left."
     I wondered what is the most interesting part of mining gravel.
     "What we're mining is 420 million years old," he said. "This used to be an old coral reef. We find fossils of sea life."
     You can see the layers of rock formed over the millennia. For now.
     "We're hoping that this summer that we're going to get water in her," said Spyropoulos
     Until the water starts flowing, however, the MWRD is taking groups to see the dry reservoir. Various delegations from neighboring communities have visited, and Sypropoolos said that if interested groups contact her office, it will arrange a tour. I carefully explained, several times, that if you put a thing like that in the paper, people will actually do it. But she insisted that is okay. So for next month or so, now's your chance. Because it'll be under water a long, long time. Though if you do go, a word of advice: bring sturdy boots. Because Brad Sutter won't let you in otherwise.
     To schedule a tour, contact the MWRD Office of Public Affairs at tours@mwrd.org, or phone 312-751-6633.

Everyone going into the tunnel takes a brass tag, to keep track of who's inside. 
This rectangular entrance, leading to the active part of the quarry, is being plugged with concrete. 
Your intrepid reporter, on the scene, within a tunnel connecting the reservoir to the TARP system.


They leveled the bottom because boulders would create turbulence.



34 comments:

  1. For an example of how valuable these kinds of projects are, Winnipeg has been saved numerous times by a once controversial floodway that is now estimated to have prevented more than $35 billlion (billion) dollars in damages.

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  2. Replies
    1. Cooler yet! Thought I'd somehow missed the new ones until I noticed phillippe's comment.

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  3. Just passed by the quarry yesterday and pointed it out to my wife, telling her that it was named for my great grand uncle Col. William Fitzhugh Thornton, which is true (except the uncle part).

    John

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  4. Mr. S, Good thing you didn't get claustrophobic in that tunnel. I would. Nice to see you in the pic, looking like one of the workers.

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  5. Bet you are glad you don't have to work there everyday.

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  6. Does "sturdy boots" mean steel toes?

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  7. If you have to go to all these places hope you can take a cab and expense it to the paper, if you don't feel comfy driving all over.

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  8. Can someone please tell me what the results of he Supreme court decision on the gay marriage was? Articles I searched weren't conclusive on what was decided. I know there was an article written here on that.

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    1. They're still deliberating. Give 'em a month.

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    2. Speaking of Thornton and court decisions, you might be entertained by the saga of Abraham Thornton, whose murder trial was the very last to be decided on a challenge of trial by combat before the House of Lords took all the fun out of the English criminal code by abolishing such challenges.
      John

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    3. By the way, if you're interested in "biosolids," The Big Necessity will tell you much more than you want to know about them and about recycled liquids as well.

      John

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    4. okay, thanks on the SC answer

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    5. No doubt, SCOTUS has criminalized Christianity. (Islam gets a pass. ) They just won't announce the decision until the end of June.

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    6. Just as there are Muslims who declare, incorrectly, that Islam is a religion of murder, so there are Christians who insist, inaccurately of late, that their religion is one of intolerance. A growing majority of people in American finally grasp that, regarding gays. Many, of course, don't get it, and display their ignorance and fear at every opportunity, even under a story about gravel. Who's obsessed now?

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    7. Disagreement on something, isn't fear.

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    8. No, but beating up on people for no reason at all except a narrow reading of faith is. You're all dressed up for a party that ended years ago. Don't cry on my knee about it. The person abusing Christianity is you, and the person making you a victim is you. You're a victim of yourself. No pity here, friend.

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    9. Mr. S, I'm not very religious, so you have jumped to conclusions. But thanks for your time and explanation. And I don't care for evangelical born agains.

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    10. In India, for example, it is against the law to engage in homosexual activities, that certainly isn't due to Christianity. Please remember Orthodox Jews don't favor this either. In Japan, gay rights are still not acquired in full. Again, not a matter of Christianity. There are agnostics that don't agree with gay marriage, but support gay civil rights in general. Like Alito said, this is changing the definition of marriage. Believe it or not, I'm not a Republican either. Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes it's a matter of tradition in certain ethnic groups and isn't about religion or conservative politics. Russia is very anti gay. Do you think Putin is a holy roller?

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    11. And who said I'm a victim?

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    12. Don't forget not just Islamic but some Middle Eastern groups or African groups don't agree with it either, based on tradition.

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    13. And ... now we're borrowing moral justification from whatever medieval sect we can find across the globe?

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    14. As to who said you're a victim, you did: "SCOTUS has criminalized Christianity. (Islam gets a pass. )" And in answer to your question, I guess I assume it's a religious objection, because otherwise it's, like Putin, mere pointless oppression. No mas.

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    15. I didn't write that Mr. S-not at all. That is another anon. I just asked the original question and was dismayed to see that.

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  9. There was a similar quarry in my home town that eventually filled up with water. The high fence around it didn't keep us kids from exploiting its possibilities as a swimming hole, although it was dangerous because of the steep sides and considerable water depth. Every summer several weak swimmers would end up drowned. The problem was solved when the city carved out a shallow water shelf at one end, installed a barrier where the deep water started and opened it to the public. Perhaps a similar recreational use might be in store for the Thornton Quarry.

    Tom Evans

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    1. Not a chance in hell will the Sanitary District allow swimming.
      The quarry will be filled with a mixture of rain water & untreated sewage.
      There isn't enough space to list every disease you could catch there when it fills up, but I do know that all the Fire Dept divers get typhoid & typhus vaccines before they're allowed to go in the Chicago River!

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  10. That better put in mosquito treatment if that water is standing water on the Thornton one.

    Tom, that one you mention, was that a quarry from around the Depression era? What town was that?

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  11. Good but sad article in ST today about 2 cops in MS shot and killed at traffic stop.

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  12. I'm confused by statements that mention criminalizing Christianity (here and elsewhere). What specific acts are being referred to?

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    1. Though there are plenty of other references that pop up on google, Coey, it seems that it's the Sage of the Southern Baptists, everybody's favorite Creationist, muddlin' Mike Huckabee, who's put "criminalizing Christianity" in the headlines most recently.

      "'... we are threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity,' Huckabee said."

      http://time.com/3847300/mike-huckabee-campaign-launch-christianity/

      I think he's mainly referring to the courts that have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but it also goes back to the Hobby Lobby case, I imagine, plus abortion, of course. How those things equate to "criminalizing Christianity", since nobody is REQUIRED to get married to somebody of the same sex, nor use contraception, nor get an abortion, is anybody's guess...

      7:50 Anonymous: This has been covered extensively on EGD, but one more time. "it's a matter of tradition in certain ethnic groups and isn't about religion or conservative politics." So what? Sorry, but bottom line -- your, or Putin's, or Indians' or Catholics' or Orthodox Jews' ancient, hidebound "TRADITION" no longer gets to outweigh the real-life committed relationships that same-sex couples deserve to have recognized in the same manner that heterosexual relationships have long been recognized. By the U. S. government, that is. No priest or minister or rabbi is about to be forced to conduct a same-sex wedding, unless their denomination, not the government, decides that they should.

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  13. Don't forget the Born again fundamentalists either, Jackash.

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  14. I'm starting to think that goofus, Huckabee might be posting here.

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