Timber! Tumble The South End Smokestack, Please – But, Be Careful

OIB raconteur Douglass Davidoff knows all about the candy-striped smokestack that so many want chopped down as a start to clean up the decommissioned powerplant in the South End. He eyes it often, like so many others, involuntarily.

The Ganim administration is in discussions with the owner of the environmental mass for an urban renewal plan

Davidoff shares his take, measured against other smokestack reclamation projects.

Now that we’re almost past the primary it’s time for the real explosion in Bridgeport.

If I correctly read Mayor Joe Ganim’s re-election mailer that was tailored to the 131st District, we’re in line for explosions in the city like we’ve never seen before.

Oh, no. Not political explosions. Hey, we have those all the time. Here’s looking at you, Joe and John. Actually our impending explosion will be an “implosion.” So here’s looking at you, Maria and Marilyn. You have paved the way, in weird political metaphors, for what is soon to happen for real — or so I do fervently hope.

Forget the politicians. I mean the real thing. KA-BOOM!

Mayor Ganim’s mailer to the 131st District reads, “Under Joe’s leadership, Downtown and the South End have seen … new efforts to demo the PSEG coal plant and Warnaco Factory.”

Leaving Warnaco aside, I am so excited to read news of bringing down the PSEG coal-fired electric plant.

That’s the major figure on our skyline, sitting alongside Bridgeport Harbor south of Downtown and the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheatre. The tall smokestack is visible on highways before you are inside the Bridgeport city limits. You can see it from across Long Island Sound. We don’t need the navigational beacons of the Bridgeport Harbor breakwaters. Just steer for the candy cane.

Its functionality was replaced a few years by the new natural gas-fired turbine just to its south with a shorter and less noticeable off-white smokestack. It’s still more imposing than I had hoped for, but not as overbearing as the former United Illuminating coal-fired electric power station smokestack, which is one of many coal-fired generating stations with tall smokestacks coming down in Connecticut and the nation to be replaced by natural gas-powered generating turbines.

I was surprised to learn several years ago that our smokestack had not been on Bridgeport’s skyline since, say, prehistoric days, or even since the days of Little Liberia and the Freeman Sisters, or Mayor Barnum, or Mayor McLevy.

I remember so often driving past it on the Turnpike as a kid. It turns out the smokestack was pretty new when I remember it as a child, even though it seemed dark and scary AND OLD with its SPOOKY neon signage. This smokestack that defines Bridgeport from land, sea, and air, is only as old as I am. It was erected in 1957. I was born the same year. Neither of us has been here forever. Nor is either of us very permanent.

The whole PSEG project excited me in part because Bridgeport will be so visibly different, so much softer, so much more concentrated in its downtown skyline, so much more in local control of how it appears to passers-by and residents alike, rather being dominated by this incredibly tall, laughably ugly, and distracting utility smokestack somehow bestowed upon us. Plus, these days, it’s useless and pointless. I think it serves only as a giant mount for the aircraft warning lights that sit atop it.

If Mayor Ganim promises further redevelopment for Bridgeport, then taking down this smokestack will do wonders — and after a lot of planning and preparation, the final act will take but seconds. You could run for another term in 2027 on this one achievement alone, Mayor Joe. You’d have visibly improved the Park City once and for all. I bet it leads to many more achievements.

If all goes well.

I’d like to know more about the specific timetable for the plant’s downfall. Would someone from City Hall expand on the mayor’s remark in his re-election mailer to the 131st District?

Fourteen years ago, a remarkably similar smokestack adjacent to a former coal-fired generating station was imploded ion the banks of the Mississippi River in  Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was a success. The video I’ve attached below was produced by the City of Saint Paul. It features great photography, a fine script, a voice-of-God narrator, and cool interviews with the local utility spokeswoman and then-Mayor Chris Coleman, a Democrat. If our demolition goes this well, this video could be copied almost word-for-word by the City of Bridgeport. Just change the names and away we go. Please note how the Saint Paul smokestack diminished that city in the same way our smokestack diminishes Bridgeport.

Also, I should add that unlike Springdale, Pa.; Springfield, Ohio, or Holyoke, Mass., our smokestack is very tall and smack-dab in the middle of everything. Not a rural location. More like the Saint Paul demolition but an even more dicey situation.

The smokestack needs a safe landing spot. We need to be safe from it when it comes down.

It cannot be dropped into the harbor — that’s an environmental nightmare. And it would threaten Steel Pointe as well as the working vessels that use Bridgeport Harbor.

It cannot be allowed to fall on the ferry landing or a ferry boat.

It cannot topple toward the Amphitheater, or fall on the Freeman Houses, or fall on any church or dwelling in the South End.

Would the authorities shut down I-95 and Rt. 8-25 for the few moments it takes for the thing to topple and the dust to settle?

How about the railroad tracks?

Is the tower so tall that in an accident it could fall on the interstate or on the Metro-North and Amtrak tracks? More disasters.

It’d be horrible and tragic if it fell on the plant built to replace it! We’d be a laughingstock if that happened. And out of a ton of money invested. A jobs killer.

I think the landing spot chosen is likely to be south-southeast of the smokestack on the property of the coal station, east of Main Street, kind of aiming toward Tongue Point.

And whoa to us if it lands pretty much anyplace else. We could lose major transportation facilities, shut down the Northeast Corridor by rail or motor vehicle, topple homes, churches, and historic sites, or kill our growing entertainment complex. And hurt more than a few people. It’s kind of crowded in that neighborhood!

You know, the safest viewing vantage may be from Dolphin Cove, Seaview Avenue, Steel Pointe, Seaside Park — or just head out by boat over the Sound to Port Jefferson, Long Island, and watch safely from there! The ferry could have quite a onetime business filling a special boat or two with spectators circling just outside the harbor breakwater.

Another successful implosion of a coal-fired electric generating station smokestack occurred four years ago on the banks of the Connecticut River at the Mount Tom Power Station in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Here, the utility used Controlled Demolition Implosions, a company that specializes in these types of planned disassembles worldwide. It would not surprise me if we learn that CDI will handle the job in Bridgeport. Western Massachusetts News produced this report. Admire the immediate improvement to the optics along the Connecticut River shoreline.
But be careful, Bridgeport.
Sometimes all the months of planning and preparation go wrong.
Take this instance 12 years ago from Springfield, Ohio, between Dayton and Columbus.
The smokestack accidentally fell toward the TV news crews and reporters corralled into a safe zone that turned out to be anything but safe. They dropped everything and ran at breakneck speed. I’m sure the demolition industry has learned the mis-firing timing errors that caused this smokestack to fall in precisely the wrong direction. It’s worth asking how this will be specifically prevented when our turn comes in Bridgeport. We don’t want Lennie Grimaldi and other local journalists to find themselves under attack like the reporters in Ohio! (They survived, by the way.) And not to mention the 4,000 local electric customers who lost power in the melee.
Just threee months ago, the implosion of a pair of smokestacks in Pennsylvania also failed. Yes, just three months ago. This was in Springdale, about 20 miles up the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh. it was a godawful mess with officials stumbling to explain why. Here’s coverage on Pittsburgh’s local CBS station, KDKA-TV:
And now that you’ve seen the details on KDKA, here’s better photography (but far fewer factual details) in a video produced by USA Today from the same maddening botched implosion. This could be the future for residents and visitors to the South End and Downtown on Demolition Day in Bridgeport. This was just three months ago. How can we be assured of doing better when it is our turn?
These demolitions usually go right. If they didn’t, the demolition contractors could not do business because they could not get insured. Theirs is a dangerous business filled with careful planning and site preparations leading up to one successful KA-BOOM! After another. We have every reason to expect that when our day comes, it will be a signal success. But Springdale, Pa., and Springfield, Ohio, are warning signs. Bridgeporters should demand that City Hall explain how every step will be taken to understand and avoid these dangerous errors.



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