Episode 82 – Atlanta Watershed Project and Driller Mike

Episode #82
Original Air Date: 05.31.2019

37 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Ade Abon and Bob Huie

The problem: insufficient water reserves for one of the most populous metro areas in the United States. The solution: construct a five-mile tunnel under the city to fill a new reservoir. That’s the innovative project discussed in this podcast.

The city of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management provides water to 1.2 million people each day. Their current project builds a reservoir, two new pump stations, and a five-mile tunnel to the Chattahoochee River. Upon completion, Atlanta will have a 2.4 billion-gallon reservoir, served by a tunnel that will be the deepest in the state. Listen in to hear from the sponsor and the project manager about this problem and the creative project solution.

Our guests are Ade Abon and Bob Huie. Ade is the Senior Watershed Director for the City of Atlanta Dept. of Watershed Management. He has 34 years of experience in the planning, design, construction, and program management for wastewater collection and water distribution systems. Bob Huie is leading the construction of the $300 million CM at-Risk Atlanta Water Supply Program. Bob’s 38-year construction career with PC Construction has focused on water treatment and water supply infrastructure work, managing over $1 billion worth of water and wastewater treatment plant upgrades and expansions.

Ade explains how this project originated and the impact it will have on the City of Atlanta, from the sponsor’s perspective. We also learn about the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) process. Bob describes the five mile (+8km), ten foot (+3m) diameter tunnel construction using a tunnel boring machine named "Driller Mike”.

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Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"I saw that as an opportunity contribute more, not just on individual projects, but really to do something massive, something that would touch many lives."

- Ade Abon

"...the reason it became a success is because everybody got to the table and figured out what we needed to do. And everybody was set on the goal. We’ve got to keep this machine moving."

- Bob Huie

"We had to, as an owner,.... step up to the plate and be available every single day because of the unknowns in underground construction, and decisions you have to make could potentially lead to costing millions of dollars or saving millions of dollars, we cannot be too far from the table."

- Ade Abon

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The podcast for project managers by project managers.
“Driller Mike”, a tunnel boring machine drilling a 5 mile tunnel underneath Atlanta.

Table of Contents

01:19 … The Project Story
02:38 … Meet Ade
06:28 … Project Objective
09:44 … CMAR
12:28 … Meet Bob
15:42 … Driller Mike
18:27 … Decision-Making Criteria
20:46 … The Unexpected Risks
23:12 … Encountering Opposition
24:21 … Lessons Learned
25:13 … Current Project Status
27:50 … CMAR Lessons Learned
31:23 … Collaboration Tip
31:46 … Project Success
34:58 … Closing

BOB HUIE: So the city kind of told everybody at the beginning we don’t have a lot of time to do this, so we can’t be fighting with each other and not getting along and doing things like that. We needed to find a way to work together for a common goal, and that was a substantial lesson that everybody had to learn.  And then once we learned it and put it into effect, it had a tremendous positive impact on the success of the project to date.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our chance to meet and discuss the things that really matter to you as a professional project manager.  We take seriously the adage that wisdom is found in a multitude of advisors, and so we seek out experts in a variety of vocations who can give us insight based on their real-life experiences.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me is the one who guides these conversations, Bill Yates, and Bill, we talk about all sizes and scopes of projects on this podcast, and today we’re talking about another really big one.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, this one’s deep, a very deep project, we’ll talk more about that, but I can’t wait.

The Project Story

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s talk about this deep project just a little bit.  The City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management provides water to 1.2 million users each day.  So the department is in the middle of establishing a 400-foot-deep reservoir that will hold 2.4 billion gallons of water, the reservoir will be in the former Bellwood Quarry northwest of downtown Atlanta.  The Quarry is to be filled through a five-mile-long tunnel that will connect it to the Chattahoochee River, the city’s primary water source.  To bore the tunnel, a tunnel boring machine, or TBM, was constructed and installed for the two-year-long tunnel project, a TBM. (Driller Mike)


NICK WALKER:  And there’s another acronym that we want to talk about.


NICK WALKER:  And you’ll probably hear this come up a lot.  That’s CMAR.



BILL YATES:  So CMAR, that’s a – really it’s a procurement term, it’s a contract type, and it stands for Construction Manager at-Risk.  Once the agreement was reached between the City of Atlanta and that major provider – Bob will talk about that.  So you may hear the owner, City of Atlanta, refer to the project manager of the team as the CMAR.  So you met your CMAR that way.

Meet Ade

NICK WALKER:  Good.  Well, we’ve got a couple of guests in the studio here.  So let me first introduce Ade Abon, Senior Watershed Director for the City of Atlanta, Department of Watershed Management, he is the director for the Capital Projects Management Division. Ade has 34 years of experience, 19 of which have been for the City of Atlanta in the planning, design, construction management, and also program management for wastewater collection and water distribution systems, Ade, welcome to Manage This.

ADE ABON:  Thank you very much.

NICK WALKER:  I’d like to start off by just maybe finding out a little bit more about you.  What was your career path to the position that you’re now in?

ADE ABON:  Yeah, so I’ve got a very long career path, and I will try and do my best to lay it all out.  Yeah, I – born, raised in Nigeria.  I worked for a couple of years on a road construction project.

NICK WALKER:  In Nigeria.

ADE ABON: So in Nigeria, I worked for a company named George Wimpey & Co., the project was basically building a 122-mile-long road connecting two major cities in Nigeria, Jos to Bauchi. I spent two good years.  I’m in the jungle, working as a junior site engineer, where we actually cleared for the first time a forest in order to make this 122-mile-long road.

So for me, I learned a lot.

NICK WALKER:  And so you brought those talents to the U.S. in 1987.

ADE ABON:  Of course, yes, these two years that I’m talking about was between 1977 and ‘79, after which I then went back to the university for a five-year degree program. So I got a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, after which I came to the U.S. Then I got a master’s degree in the U.S. in civil engineering, as well.

I worked for 15 years in the private sector as a consultant, really, working for consulting engineering firms, then after that I joined the city.  I did that in the year 2000.

And so the reason why I joined the city was really because in late ‘90s the city was placed under consent decree by the EPA, EPD, where it was mandated to fix all the wastewater sewer overflows that we had all over the city. Also what that meant was that the city was required to spend close to three, four billion dollars in major infrastructure improvements on the pipelines and the treatment facilities for wastewater. So when I read about that, and knowing what I wanted to do, my career path, I saw that as an opportunity contribute more, not just on individual projects, but really to do something massive, something that would touch many lives.  So that was why I joined the city.

NICK WALKER:  It’s pretty massive.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s great.  It makes you a smart customer, too, a very smart sponsor because, I mean, you cut your teeth doing this type of work.  Those are my favorite customers, when they know what they’re talking about.  When I’m a PM delivering something, I like a customer who’s been there, done that, and they’ve gotten their hands in it. So you’ve got that background, that rich background that I’m sure Bob will appreciate that when we get deeper into this project.  So you know what you’re talking about.

ADE ABON:  You are right.  I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I know what the frustrations were when I was doing it.  So you try to help your team now not to go through the difficult parts, basically.  So the experience has been really tremendous for me.

BILL YATES:  Yes.  So just to clarify, your role on this project is really as the sponsor and the customer, you represent the customer.

ADE ABON:  Correct. 

BILL YATES:  We love having conversations with folks that have different roles in projects, so it’s great to have a sponsor, a customer, in the room to be able to ask questions about a project.

ADE ABON:  Very good.  Thank you.

BILL YATES:  Thank you.

ADE ABON:  Delighted to be here.

Project Objective

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s talk a little bit about how this project got started.  What was the need?

ADE ABON: I’ve been in the U.S. since ‘87.  But since 1992 I know we’ve been through droughts, right?

NICK WALKER:  Oh, yeah.

ADE ABON:  Off and on.  But there was a particular drought season that really stuck with me, I mean, it would not go away, that was the one that occurred between 2005 and 2007.

NICK WALKER:  We all remember that one very well.

ADE ABON:  I mean, one could look at the pictures in the newspapers of Lake Lanier water level, and you were really scared, also, if you were working for the city like I was at that point, you were wondering whether the bottom was going to fall out, really. Are we going to go totally dry, where we’ll be importing water from other states?  So that was really troubling, I mean, it troubled me, it troubled the mayor at that time, Shirley Franklin, it troubled the governor, Governor Perdue. I also remember the governor actually praying, right, for water, publically.


NICK WALKER:  Mm-hmm, sure.

ADE ABON:  That was scary, so I believe that helped us to, when I say “helped us,” helped the city, the leadership, to refocus on actually solving this problem because the problem had been there all along, right?  We’ve always known that we have only one active reservoir for raw water supply, and the water in that reservoir will only last for three days, really. 

BILL YATES:  Wow, so that’s the whole City of Atlanta, how many people are we talking about that are impacted by that?

ADE ABON:  1.2 million people is the population we serve, so you are talking of all businesses in the city really being shut down, really, unless you can get water down here from other locations.   And that was why the Quarry property was purchased by the city, so you had a reservoir problem to solve, and that is big. Plus we also have pipelines, really the pipelines conveyed water from the river to our treatment plants.  The oldest is 125-plus years old as we speak.

BILL YATES:  Oh, 125 years old.


ADE ABON:  So, I mean, the pipe still works but the point is it’s getting to a point where you must replace it, right? I’ve no doubt about it, it’s done all it can do, but with the drought, I believe, that forced us really to actually take a quick action on the reservoir issue.  Now, how do we get more water, more than three days of supply?

But with the Quarry being available at that time, and the leadership making that call to buy it, and I think they made the best call in the world, I think. And so that has gotten us where we are today, where we are clearly converting that Quarry to a reservoir that will provide a lot of water to us in the future.

BILL YATES:  A couple of quick facts.  Tell us what was the timeline for the project? 

ADE ABON:  We started the design, serious design effort, right, in about 2014, early 2014. And we brought the CMAR – which is the construction manager at-risk, PC-Russell JV, represented by Bob Huie here today – we brought them in in 2015, and so basically one can say design formally started in 2014. 


BILL YATES:  So one quick question, the CMAR, the construction manager at-risk, this is a contract type, right, that you guys implemented for this project.

ADE ABON:  You are very right, so we’ve got a few delivery methods that we use in actually procuring contracts and running projects.  Usually an owner in my case looks at all those delivery methods and selects one that is the best for the particular project, right?


ADE ABON:  The CMAR, construction manager at-risk. So it allows the City of Atlanta as an owner to actually select an outfit that comes in with a lot of skill, a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience and working with the engineer that the owner has retained to actually develop the plan from 30 percent stage to where the project is fully developed.

But the greatest advantage of a CMAR really is that, as soon as the CMAR comes onboard, the CMAR is the construction manager as well as a contractor, meaning he’s got a capacity to actually bring in subcontractors and start doing work immediately on whatever aspect of the project is designed well enough.  In this case here really the big time consumer on a project of this magnitude, when you are building a tunnel in hard rock, very deep tunnel, is getting a TBM, a tunnel boring machine, manufactured.

BILL YATES:  Aha.  So you had to build…

ADE ABON:  Oh, yeah.

BILL YATES:  I’m going to go ahead and say it, “Driller Mike.”  You had to build Driller Mike.

ADE ABON:  Oh, yeah, so it has to actually – brand new equipment that had to be manufactured, and from procurement to where you actually have such a machine delivered to the site, it takes a minimum of one year.


ADE ABON:  So the thought process was, if we get the CMAR onboard in 2015, then the owner could release the CMAR to actually initiate the procurement of the TBM, which was what we did.


ADE ABON:  So as soon as the city and PC-Russell, the CMAR, wrote their contract and agreed, then the CMAR was able to put in procurement of the TBM on behalf of the city.

BILL YATES:  Got it.

ADE ABON:  What that does really saves us so many months, I would say, if it’s not a year, it saved us probably something between eight and a year.

BILL YATES:  That makes sense.  I had no idea.  I’ve seen images of this huge drilling machine, and we’ll also get Bob to describe that more. So I didn’t even think about how long it would take to build it, I know I can’t go into Home Depot and buy one.

Meet Bob

NICK WALKER:  I think we’d better bring in Bob to our conversation; okay?

BILL YATES:  I think we should.

NICK WALKER:  Bob Huie, his 38-year construction career with PC Construction has focused on water treatment and water supply infrastructure work throughout the United States. Also, Bob has managed over $1 billion worth of water and wastewater treatment plant upgrades and expansions, with particular emphasis on integrated delivery projects in the Southeastern United States. So Bob, I think we ought to get a little insight into your background, as well, and how you came to be involved in this project.

BOB HUIE:  Sure, sure. My family, it was a construction family, and so we all got into the business, I guess is the way to say it.  But I graduated from Norwich University, which is in Northfield, Vermont, and went to work for, at the time, Pizzagalli Construction Company, which is now PC Construction Company.  I came to Atlanta about 20 years ago and have worked on, I’m going to call it “infrastructure type” work, building wastewater treatment plants and water facilities, and had the opportunity in 2015, when the city selected PC-Russell to be the construction manager at-risk, to be the project director for the CMAR, to perform this project.

Tunnel Construction

NICK WALKER:  Obviously we’ve got a lot of brains working together on this project, and that’s a good thing because it’s a massive project. We’re talking about a five-mile, 12-foot diameter tunnel, so that’s just over eight kilometers and 3.6 meters diameter, and it’s a tunnel that’s lined with cement. So what was the whole process for the design of this, were there other options?  I mean, how did you decide on what you were going to actually build?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, let me interject one thing, too, I mean, Ade said – he brought up the obvious thing, that there was a lot of property that we just could not choose, we couldn’t use, because it’s already been developed.  Is that what made you guys go underground?

ADE ABON:  That is always a major consideration when we’re thinking of doing any work in the city, really, because of the density of the development today.  We will prefer not to disrupt businesses because wherever you do pipeline work, really, you’re going to take some businesses out of service, so we’ve done this the last, I’ll say 20 years, really, the city has built a lot of tunnels.


ADE ABON:  And that has allowed us to actually do a lot of things, solve a lot of problems with minor disruption to businesses, to our customers, because that is the key, right?

BILL YATES:  That’s good, so from the start, Bob, did you know it’s going to be a tunnel?  You were brought in?  That decision had already been made?

BOB HUIE:  That decision had been made, at the time when we came onboard, there was still some determination that the city was trying to make as it relates to how much of the tunnel to build.


BOB HUIE:  Okay?  And it was actually done in two phases.  We were initially contracted to do kind of the initial phase from the Quarry to the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant site, and then later on we added the scope of work to go from the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant all the way to the river.  So it was done in multiple phases.

BILL YATES:  Got it.

Driller Mike

NICK WALKER:  And to get this tunnel, you had to have this big gigantic machine called “Driller Mike.”  That’s what the nickname was.  So tell us a little bit about the process of actually using this machine to dig.

BOB HUIE:  Sure, sure.  A tunnel boring machine is a very large machine.  It’s a lot bigger than you can actually believe.  Its 400 feet long.

BILL YATES:  Four hundred feet.


BOB HUIE:  So, you know, that’s probably the first thing that people don’t realize is that it’s not just a digging machine.  You’ve got to be able to support it with electrical systems, hydraulic systems, ways in which to get the rock out of the tunnel. In this case the tunnel subcontractor chose to use kind of a mining car type system where they would bring mining cars in to collect the rock. And also the tunnel boring machine, as it’s moving forward, discharges the rock back to where the cars are located. On this particular job there was a lot of changes in direction that we had to navigate, and so that added to the complexity of actually mining the tunnel, where you had to…

BILL YATES:  So it wasn’t a straight shot.

BOB HUIE:  Wasn’t a straight shot.  There were at least a dozen curves in the…

ADE ABON:  We have many curves there.

BILL YATES:  How do you – okay, so it’s longer than a football field, and you have to gradually make that turn.

BOB HUIE:  Yes.  Yeah, yeah, so picture, picture [crosstalk].

NICK WALKER:  Turn on a dime.

BOB HUIE:  Right, exactly, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Oh, wow.

BOB HUIE:  And thus the reason the city ended up doing it that way is the right of way process, where they actually secure right of way to where to put the tunnel, most of the tunnel is actually beneath the railroad system that’s in Atlanta.  It was just easier, you know…

BILL YATES:  Because you had right of way.

BOB HUIE:  Yeah, because you had right of way to do it that way.

BILL YATES:  And how deep are we talking?

BOB HUIE:  Starts out at roughly 300 feet in the Quarry.  It goes as deep as 450 feet at the Hemphill plant, and then I think it’s around 250 to 300 at the river.

BILL YATES:  Okay.  And what’s the pace?  I mean, I’ve seen cartoons where drills go really fast and rock is spewing.

BOB HUIE:  Sure, yeah, so on our best day, which is a good – always the one that we like to talk about.


BOB HUIE:  It’s about 125, 130 feet we did, and but on average it’s right around 50 feet per day, in that area.  So it’s slow, you know, compared to what you might think.  But when you think about what it’s actually doing, or that it’s cutting through granite at a depth where there’s a lot of water coming in, the really tough working conditions, it’s pretty fast-paced, actually.

NICK WALKER:  That’s just amazing.

Decision Making Criteria

BILL YATES:  Many of the projects I’ve worked on, I’ve had technical experts that are giving me different opinions, and then there’s that whole decision-making process. So how did you guys – what was your decision-making criteria?  How did you reach consensus?

BOB HUIE:  It was actually done prior to our arrival, I think the alignment was really more something the city and Stantec tunnel engineer would do.  So I’ll let Ade…

ADE ABON:  Yeah, Bob is very right, as I’ve expressed earlier, the city hired an engineering consulting firm, in this case Stantec.

BILL YATES:  Yes.  We’re familiar with Stantec, yes.

ADE ABON:  And the selection of Stantec was very strategic because we know they can do it, they’ve got the knowledge, and we know most of their folks, as well.


ADE ABON:  Now also as a team the owner, the engineers, the geologists, you know, everybody will have to work through several workshops, really, to find out the best alignment for the tunnel.  So a lot of your technical investigation work actually preceded all that, you have to put in – you have to do your coring.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, core samples, right.

ADE ABON:  Yeah, exactly, every 2,000 feet along the alignment, which is what we like.  So we think at 2,000 feet you know enough about the ground where they can then make determination as to the best alignment. And then they can kind of forecast what the rock would look like, what the fractures in the rock would look like, how much water inflow gets into the tunnel.

Tunneling is very challenging, it’s not just the rock cutting that you are fighting, it’s also really how do you deal with the water inflow that comes into the tunnel every minute, every second of the day. If the experts have kind of forecasted a number that is too low in terms of inflow into the tunnel, you may end up flooding the tunnel completely. What that means is your machine, actually, the TBM could be flooded, and so that could be a major game stopper, right, show stopper.


ADE ABON:  So it’s a lot of things that goes into this, what does the rock look like?  How much fractures you have in the rock?  Which segment of the tunnel should I line?  Which should I not line?  Reason is because every decision you make could cost you millions of dollars, you know, and lining is not cheap, I can tell you that.

The Unexpected

NICK WALKER:  On this podcast we also talk a lot about the unexpected things that come up on projects. What other things, I mean, I’m thinking about weather, the thickness or the hardness of the rock. So were there any items that maybe you hadn’t completely thought of that came up unexpected that kind of slowed it down or made it tougher than it would have been?

BOB HUIE:  Sure, yeah, because of the alignment of the tunnel, we did have some issues where we had to fight through how to best overcome those problems as far as mining the tunnel and allowing the machine to do the work that it was intended to do. But the reason it became a success is because everybody got to the table and figured out what we needed to do, and everybody was set on the goal. We’ve got to keep this machine moving.

During the mining of the tunnel, roughly a couple of miles in, we discovered some groundwater issues, contamination-type issues, which was not necessarily affecting the tunnel itself, per se, it was more a health and safety type thing where some of the workers were being exposed to chemicals that became gaseous because of the cutting of the rock.  And so we, collectively, the city, the tunnel subcontractor, ourselves, had to decide how are we going to deal with it, you know, for roughly a thousand feet of mining over a three-month period of time, which is not a whole lot of mining.  They had to work in hazmat conditions in order to get past the condition that we discovered.

Now, ultimately, you know, the tunnel will be lined and grouted, so the condition that we’re talking about is going to go away and has gone away, for the most part.  But during the construction it was a challenge.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  A risk occurred.

BOB HUIE:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Okay, what do we do with this?

BOB HUIE:  Exactly.

ADE ABON:  A big unknown.

NICK WALKER:  Big unknown.

BOB HUIE:  So, you know, and a lot of times when you have a situation like that, people can dig their heels in and say no, we’re not going to move forward, we’re going to wait and get a lot of people involved.  Well, that’s not what we did.  We jumped on it, and we said this is what we’ve got to do.  We’ve got to get the right experts involved and help us make the right decisions on health and safety.  And it was done that way, and the city recognized that it was an important thing that had to be done and funded accordingly.


BILL YATES:  Bob, on a lighter note, did you ever have a neighbor come running out of the house going, “You guys are shaking all the dishes off of my china cabinet?”

BOB HUIE:  We had one neighbor, an apartment complex that was concerned about some of the work we were doing at the Hemphill site. They were concerned about their sales because they had just finished an apartment complex nearby.  So we had to get through kind of a legal situation there, which we did.  And it was all done collaboratively, just like we were doing at the project level.  And ultimately it didn’t impact the project and had very little impact on the apartment complex.  But yeah, it happens.

ADE ABON:  That’s true.  It happens.

BOB HUIE:  It happens.  It was more of a noise issue, you know, that kind of thing.  And just not being accustomed to that type of noise on a construction site, it’s very normal.

BILL YATES:  Sure.                         

ADE ABON: The moment they were ready to bring tenants in, that was when they started complaining, concerned that they may not be able to bring in enough tenants.

BILL YATES:  Sure.            

ADE ABON:  That was the problem, really.  It wasn’t financial.  But we resolved it.  They understood we had to do what we were doing.

Lessons Learned

BILL YATES:  One question I wanted to ask really either or both of you.  What lessons learned did you have, from your perspective?  From the role that you were playing in this, what lessons learned would you share?

BOB HUIE:  The one I like to talk a little bit about is the team collaboration is kind of one of the big things that from a lesson learned perspective was very important for this job.  And the city kind of told everybody at the beginning we don’t have a lot of time to do this, so we can’t be fighting with each other and not getting along and doing things like that.  We needed to find a way to work together for a common goal.  And that was a substantial lesson that everybody had to learn.  And then once we learned it and put it into effect, it had a tremendous positive impact on the success of the project to date.

Project Status

NICK WALKER:  So where are we in the project?  The tunnel is completed; right?

BOB HUIE:  The mining of the tunnel was completed in October last year.

ADE ABON:  Correct.

BOB HUIE:  The lining of the tunnel is currently underway, the expectation is that it’ll be completed in September or October, so roughly a year after the mining was complete.  Pump station facilities are effectively built, and the shafts beneath the pump stations have been built and completed.  These shafts actually tie into the tunnel and connect the tunnel and the Quarry to each other, those sort of things.  So our expectation is that the tunneling work should be completed by the end of the year, and at that point in time we would be introducing water into the tunnel and eventually into the Quarry so we can do the final testing of the pumping facilities and things like that.

NICK WALKER:  And what’s the timeline on that?  Describe kind of how that happens.

BOB HUIE:  So it’s actually remarkable, en you and I think about, we came onboard, and there was a concept of what we were going to do. Also, We didn’t have design documents, it was a concept, we’re going to do this. And, you know, so using some of the tools that we brought to the table – scheduling, planning, estimating skills, the market conditions and things like that – we identified kind of the critical parts of the job that needed to get going right away in order for the job to get started and developed pricing for that, was given authorization by the city to proceed with the work based on the estimates that we had come up with, and the work began. So that all happened within months of us actually being contracted, probably three months, and we were already starting construction activity at two sites.

And so the actual tunneling operation Ade mentioned earlier was dependent upon the TBM, that TBM showed up in the summer of 2016, roughly six or eight months after we had started.  And it was built and then was put into operation in October of 2016.  Roughly two years after that, the mining was complete in 2018.  And then, like I said earlier, the lining of the tunnel has been going on really for the last number of months and should finish up at the end of this year, and at that time pump stations should be done, and we’d be ready to start putting the system into place.

BILL YATES:  Go online.

BOB HUIE:  Yeah.

CMAR Lessons Learned

ADE ABON:  Yeah, so just to piggyback on what Bob said about lessons learned on the project, there are a couple more that I would like to highlight, right?  The CMAR, the delivery method, while it has been used for many, many years in the U.S….

BILL YATES:  That contract type.

ADE ABON:  That contract type for facilities to have construction primarily,  this is actually also the first time that I know of that it has been used for a complex underground project like ours.  So we learned a lot, we had to, as an owner, right, we had to basically step up to the plate and be available every single day because of the unknowns in underground construction, and decisions you have to make could potentially lead to costing millions of dollars or saving millions of dollars, we cannot be too far from the table.

So we formed this team that worked collaboratively every day, I mean, there were a ton of workshops.  The first three months we couldn’t breathe, all of us, really, because we were trying to get a subcontractor for tunneling hired very quickly.  So going through that bid process, interviewing and then trying to get them to also not only give you pricing for the first phase, but to anticipate that we’re going to be adding the second four-mile tunnel, which had not been designed, It was challenging.

We learned a lot there, we made it work because it has worked.  So another component that I think that we as an owner learned, I personally learned a lot, is if we are to use a CMAR again, right, for this type of underground construction, this intricate, I would like to have brought them in much earlier.

BILL YATES:  Ah.  Even earlier.

ADE ABON:  Even earlier, reason is because when the owner was designing, making decisions on the tunnel alignment and making decisions on what the components of the tunnel would look like, I would have liked to have heard the CMAR and his tunnel subcontractor, if possible, be part of that discussion so that there are no surprises when the TBM shows up a year later.


ADE ABON:  Because that can be problematic; right?


ADE ABON:  If a tunnel subcontractor was not part of your decision-making in the selection of the TBM, then he ends up getting the TBM.  Then he has to make it perform to a certain expectation of the owner, and that may not happen because they were not part of that discussion. Things may not work like they would have liked it to work, and so we experienced that.  We had to actually replace three components of the tunnel boring machine.

BILL YATES:  Right, okay.

ADE ABON:  The tunnel contractor believed, if they had had a say at the beginning, that wouldn’t have been the case.  They would have pushed back on those components, so for me, big lessons learned.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, these are great lessons learned, thinking about technology decisions that we make and who really needs to be at the table when we make them.  Can we make that happen?  Can we bring everybody in?  And then that even daily collaboration with the owner and those that are performing the work, that sounds like an Agile concept. But here it is right there in construction, as well. love that.  And I can see, just so – people can’t see what we can see, since this is a recording.  But we have the owner, and we have the PM, the project director, they’re just as happy as can be, they’re in the same room, they’re just two feet apart from each other.  You can feel the love.

ADE ABON:  Oh, yeah, yeah, we’re good.

BILL YATES:  Things have gone well.

Collaboration Tip

BOB HUIE:  Yeah, the other nuance, and this may not sound like a big thing, but it is, is everybody was put in the same place to do it.

BILL YATES:  Ah, good.

BOB HUIE:  We all worked out of the same office facilities – owner, engineer, contractor side by side, and so it really – it creates an atmosphere that supports the collaboration.

BILL YATES:  Absolutely.

ADE ABON:  Co-location.  I think that’s what you call it; right?

BILL YATES:  Co-location, that’s it, yes, yes.

BOB HUIE:  That’s exactly right, yeah.

Project Success

NICK WALKER:  I’d like to also ask a question of both of you and I’d like for both of you to chime in on this.  I guess bottom line is, is this project going to do what it was set out to do?  Is it going to either eliminate or at least minimize the possibility of another massive drought in the Atlanta area?

ADE ABON:  Based on our experience, if we have any of the droughts we’ve had in the past, right, we will be able to endure all that.  So we know we’ve got 2.4 billion gallons of water will be sitting in the reservoir, the Quarry reservoir, which will last us for 30 days if we use water at the normal consumption level.  However, we know this, right? Whenever there’s a drought, right, what do we do, we conserve, right?

So we believe we can push that to 45-90 days, really.  So I don’t see a problem really with any drought in the future, we actually have very deep vertical shafts, 10 of them, already excavated and aligned.  It’s to give us a lot of flexibility in how we use water, how we get water from the river to the Quarry while we’re supplying the two treatment plants at the same time on a daily basis. And how, if we need to, we can actually stop flow from the river, where we do not take anything from the river, and feed the tunnel system from the Quarry. So we have a complete package of a solution that will solve our drought concerns forever in the city.

BILL YATES:  That’s project success.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, yeah.  Bob, do you share Ade’s optimism?

BOB HUIE:  I do. I think operationally the facilities have a lot of redundancy built into them, so they’ve set themselves up for any types of issues that might occur from a maintenance perspective and to handle those easily.  Actually, the design utilizes gravity in a lot of ways to bring the water to the different places and use it without having to have pumping.  You can pump or you can use gravity to get the water to the locations you need to have them. But, yeah, it’s a complex project, but the simplicity of it from an operational perspective, I think, is what’ll be – it’ll be a big benefit to the city over time.

You need to come see it.  It’s pretty impressive.  It’s pretty impressive.  When you go down inside that Quarry, it’s really, really a very interesting thing to behold, so, yeah, you’ll enjoy it.

ADE ABON:  And I will say this; right?  Just converting a quarry that was exploited for about a hundred years that would have been left as a wasteland, also making that into something that will guarantee water supply for the entire city, I just think it is a very good story, really. 

The city also has a second phase which is to build this massive 280-acre park that will be a wonderful addition to that community. that we hope, and we can see the sign already, that is going to pull in development of all sorts, you know. So it’s a win-win, you know, we get water, we get more development, our city grows


NICK WALKER:  Ade, Bob, thank you again so much for being with us and describing this massive project. I’m just so impressed with the collaboration that you guys had, working together to resolve the issues, to get this thing done, and I’m anxious to see how it all works here in the coming years.

We’ve got a gift for you.  It’s the Manage This coffee mug, you’ll each receive one of these, and I’ve got mine filled with water, but someday the water will be coming through your tunnel into this cup.

ADE ABON:  Yeah, thank you.

BOB HUIE:  Sure, yeah.

NICK WALKER:  Finally, we always like to give our listeners a little something extra with our podcasts, and I hope you’re taking advantage of the free PDUs, those Professional Development Units that come from just listening to our podcasts.  You can claim them by going to Velociteach.com and choosing Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on June 18th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

5 responses to “Episode 82 – Atlanta Watershed Project and Driller Mike”

  1. Daniel says:

    Very interesting.

  2. Pat Mooney says:

    THis was a very good Podcast. I was in heavy construction for over 14 years and have been involved in numerouse large large projects. This type of collaboration would definately have helped.

  3. Ted Evans says:

    Excellent podcast that exhibited how a collaborative team means a successful team. You can tell Bob and Ade enjoyed working together, and both of these leaders are very experienced. In our field it’s hard for these folks to leave their egos at the door.
    Everyone “got to the table” and got this job done! I think we all learned the dangers of working underground and utilizing a TBM.
    Excellent podcast, exciting project!

    • Wendy Grounds says:

      Thanks for your comment Ted. We certainly enjoyed having Bob and Ade in the studio and learning about this project.

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