All dried up 

Neighbors say the Nancy Creek Tunnel project has cut off water to two streams

Robert Wilson played in the stream near his home on Windsor Parkway in Brookhaven as a child. Years later, he watched his kids splash around in it. Now he walks along a dry streambed, and finds dead salamanders and crawfish in his path.

Wilson is one of several people who live near the Nancy Creek Tunnel and have complained to the city that the project caused two small streams to dry up. "A project that was supposed to conserve water has destroyed it," he says.

Wilson, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, says the wildlife that once flourished there is dying off. He also worries that the tree canopy will no longer have the water it needs to stay healthy.

The city of Atlanta has responded that the streams dried up because of a lack of rainfall. A report commissioned by the city, issued Nov. 17, backed that up.

But state Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, who lives in the neighborhood, says he's concerned that the city's report may have downplayed problems with the tunnel. He says neighbors plan to find their own experts to review the city's findings. "Frankly, I'd like to see someone independent do the study," he says.

Almost a year ago, Mayor Shirley Franklin unveiled the Nancy Creek Tunnel, one of the initial phases of the city's controversial $4 billion sewer project. The 8.5-mile tunnel, which was completed on time and under budget, was built to help stem the city's massive problem with combined sewer overflow. Heavy rains would overwhelm the antiquated system and send untreated sewage into Nancy Creek and the Chattahoochee River.

Neighbors fear the tunnel wasn't grouted adequately to prevent leaks. They think the underground water source that once fed the stream is now spilling through cracks into the tunnel. Wilson says an engineer with Jordan, Jones & Goulding -- the Nancy Creek project contractor -- told him they had trouble finding a grout that would stay in those cracks and not get washed out.

JJ&G project manager Refik Elibay declined to comment. However, Janet Ward, public information officer for the city's Department of Watershed Management, says the grouting "was done exactly as it should've been and it's working."

City Councilwoman Clair Muller says the city has pulled the grout logs to verify the job was completed. "To check the grout would be a very unpleasant trip," Muller says, noting that raw sewage now flows through the tunnel.

A similar problem cropped up in Cobb County in 2002 after the Chattahoochee Interceptor -- a 9.5-mile sewer tunnel project co-managed by JJ&G -- was built. Several small streams disappeared when cracks sent the water that had fed them into the tunnel. In 2004, new grouting was added; neighbors said it helped but didn't completely solve the problem.

The neighbors around the Nancy Creek Tunnel say their streams all but dried up this summer.

The city's report says some of the streams still exist, and that the others were victims of dry weather. According to the National Weather Service, Atlanta has had 44.91 inches of rain so far this year, which is 1.41 inches below normal.

"The tunnel has had no effect on those streams," Ward says. "It had a very temporary effect [during construction] and [the streams] are back to where they should be right now."

But neighbors say the streams are still dry. "It's obvious to the naked eye that the streams are gone," Wilson says. "If the city says nothing is wrong with the stream then they're lying. It was always there, even in the worst drought."

Wendy Orent, who lives directly above the tunnel, says she was assured by the city that the project would not affect her property. But she says it did.

She once watched turtles tread water in the vigorous stream in front of her house. These days, all she finds are bottles in a dry ravine. "I had a beautiful stream," she says, "and now it's gone."

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