Massive earth moving and development at Santa Barbara’s Sheffield Reservoir has proceeded into the new year as the city continues construction on two underground holding tanks, capable of holding 6.5 million gallons of water each.

When completed in late 2005, the tanks will completely replace the aboveground reservoir located just north of downtown Santa Barbara. The reservoir was demolished in 2003 since it no longer met state and federal water quality standards for drinking water as a result of the dust, airborne pollutants, illegally dumped waste and animal feces it was found to contain. Above the new tanks, the city plans to build a park with open rolling terrain and walkways , as well as an area designated solely for police canine training.

“For the first year, crews will be busy installing the new tanks, and during the second year, we will be focusing on the open field above the tanks,” said Bob Sedivy, the project’s supervising civil engineer.

Known as the Sheffield Water Quality Project, the 23-acre site is bordered on three sides by Stanwood Drive, Mountain Drive and Mission Ridge Road, and is surrounded by residential areas. At an approximate cost of $20 million, funding for the project comes from a low-interest state loan that will eventually be paid off through current water usage fees paid by city residents.

Despite the large scale of the project, Sedivy said there have been few noise complaints in the two months since construction got underway.

“We got a whole lot of earth movers up there,” Sedivy said. “Most of the complaints we have received have been about the reverse beeping sound made from the trucks. But other than that, it has not been too bad.”

Crews are also keeping strict daylight working hours to reduce disruptive construction noise for area residents. In addition, supply truck deliveries and pickups are scheduled to minimally affect rush hour traffic.

Sedivy said 250 new oak trees are going to be planted to make up for the few that had to be removed, and that a new parking lot will be built using existing gravel at the site.

“We are working hard to maintain the natural setting,” Sedivy said.

According to a city website set up to keep residents affected by the project informed about the pace of construction, two temporary reservoirs, which were constructed in 2002, are being used to store water while the new underground tanks are in the works.

An ad hoc committee was called together by the Planning Commission of Santa Barbara County to review details of the construction and ensure the compatibility of the project design with the surrounding residential neighborhood.

The project’s architect, civil engineers and landscape specialists are all collaborating to make the open space above the reservoirs as human- and animal-friendly as possible, according to the website.