Hundreds gather to witness smokestack fall at port

Several hundred people gathered at Blair Terminal on the Port of Tacoma tideflats yesterday morning to witness a piece of...

Several hundred people gathered at Blair Terminal on the Port of Tacoma tideflats yesterday morning to witness a piece of the city’’s history collapse in two thunderous booms and a cloud of dust.

Armed with cameras and shielding their eyes from the sun rising over Northeast Tacoma, a crowd of former Kaiser Aluminum employees, Tacoma residents, and port officials counted down from 10 to one before retired Kaiser employee Gene Whitcomb (aided by his three-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Paul Rogers, Jr.) pushed a ceremonial lever that triggered the 500-foot tower to emit a deep rumble, shift momentarily, then topple on its side and land in a clearing at the shuttered Kaiser Aluminum plant.

The port awarded a $3.6 million contract to R.W. Rhine to remove more than 70 vacant buildings on the Kaiser site.

On Friday afternoon, the final explosive charge was loaded into the base of the 38-year-old smokestack by Salt Lake Seismic Services, a subcontractor responsible for demolishing the tower. Both the port and the subcontractor took steps to make sure the demolition would have minimal impacts on the community and the environment. Steel from the smokestack will be recycled, and concrete will be used as a base for asphalt that will be used to cover the property.

“”We are making progress with new types of businesses on that property that will create a lot of new jobs at the port,”” said port commissioner Jack Fabulich. “The port plans to clear the 96-acre site for future port operations.”

““This is going to be a marine terminal developed based on customer demand,”” said port spokesperson Mike Wasem. ““All of the east side of Blair Waterway is getting interest from around the world. It has the potential to be a magnificent facility.””

Port project manager Lou Paulsen agreed.

““More than 300 jobs were at the Kaiser site up until it closed,”” said Paulsen. “”We’’re out here to talk about jobs. We could be looking at 1,700 jobs on this site in the next few years.””

Former Kaiser manager Joe Coddy recalled the smokestack’’s storied presence on the tide flat skyline.

“”It has really sat there vacant since the early-1970s,”” said Coddy. “At one point, Kaiser considered removing the smokestack itself. “But we would have had to tear it down piece by piece. It would have been an expensive proposition.””

Aluminum production at Kaiser’’s Tacoma facility was curtailed in 2000. Kaiser sold the site to the port in 2002.

Sunday’’s demolition was the second smokestack destroyed in the Pacific Northwest in the past three months. In May, the 499-foot Trojan Cooling Tower near Portland, Oregon was toppled. Similarly, the 563-foot ASARCO stack in Tacoma was destroyed in 1992.

Darrell Ogden loads explosives into the base of a smokestack on the former Kaiser Aluminum site on the Port of Tacoma tideflats. The 500-foot tower was demolished Sunday morning to make room for future growth at the port. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)
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