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WRT the excavation: Have you tried mass-designating ramps one Z-level at a time? That's the fastest and safest way I know of to dig out a whole bunch of Z-levels
It was a 2 layer aquifier i had to deal with also, took a while but i just kept draining from first level, until i had enough space in my first aquifier level to drain the second.
Hey i started a fortress near a human village, with an aquifer 3 levels down. All the rock is under there, and im just about to finish off the wooden walls!
My dwarves can now move from wooden weapons and leather armour to metal hopefully!
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::shrug:: I guess I didn't need this space after all!