Old Port Angeles mill's smokestack is history, should be preserved, port commissioners told

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Save the stack?

That's what some North Olympic Peninsula residents want to do: preserve the 175-foot chimney that rises over downtown Port Angeles while the plywood mill that fed it is torn down.

The stack will be toppled with explosives later this year as part of the Port of Port Angeles' $1.6 million Peninsula Plywood site demolition project.

“Some people have said, 'Why can't we save that stack? It's an iconic symbol of what our community used to do,” newly named Port Commission President Jim Hallett said during a project update at a Monday commissioners meeting.

“They are looking at that as a symbol,” said Hallett, who earlier was named the board's 2013 president by outgoing president and Commissioner John Calhoun and Commissioner Paul McHugh.

“There's some sentimentality,” Hallett said of the cylindrical structure, which is being swathed in scaffolding as Rhine Demolition of Tacoma prepares to tear down the stack by March 25.

Calhoun said the stack is on navigation charts that will have to be revised after it no longer pierces the skyline.

History buff and retired wood-products industry developer Jack Markley of Port Angeles is in the save-the-stack camp.

Markley, 81, is a member of the Lewis & Clark Foundation and the Montana Historical Foundation, and his great grandfather fought in the Civil War, he said.

“To me, it's a landmark,” Markley said in a telephone interview.

“It's expensive to take it down,” he said, adding he wanted to but had not approached Hallett about keeping the stack standing.

“If it ain't broke, don't break it, to twist an expression.”

Markley noted that people are fighting to save smokestacks that were integral to a closed Asarco copper smelter in El Paso.

People who opposed the Asarco's operations in the late 1990s on health and environmental grounds are among those now fighting to prevent the demolition of what The Associated Press said were “the plant's iconic smokestacks that have dominated the local skyline for nearly half a century.”

The last time a tall stack was toppled in Port Angeles was in 1998, when the Rayonier pulp mill was dismantled northeast of downtown.

The plywood mill's smokestack hasn't been used since 2001, when former owner K Ply installed equipment to make the mill more “smokeless” and bypass the stack.

Port Director of Engineering Chris Hartman said the stack's hazardous coating of asbestos-infused paint will be chipped away later this winter, and the scaffolding will be torn down by March 15 in preparation for demolishing the chimney later in March.

The 180,000-square-foot main mill complex — the same size as the Port Angeles Walmart store — will be demolished by April 12, Hartman told commissioners.

In an interview after Monday's meeting, he said he had a couple of concerns about preserving the waterfront edifice, which dwarfs all other buildings in the city from where it stands on the edge of downtown.

The port plans to market the property for leasing to marine trades businesses.

The property will be cleared of existing buildings by May 3, while environmental cleanup is slated for completion by late 2017.

“If we want to use that property for marine trades, it's right in the middle of our development plans,” Hartman said.

“The value of that property is so high [with] its location in connection with the marine terminals that to not fully utilize that property is kind of a hard thing to get over,” he said.

“With its age, there are some concerns about the foundation material underneath it being unstable,” Hartman added.

The mill, built on shoreline fill, was dedicated Dec. 13, 1941, according to 18-page history of the mill, “From PenPly to K Ply: The History of the Peninsula Plywood Corporation and its Successors,” published in 2001 by the Tacoma-based Plywood Pioneers Association.

When it opened, the mill was owned by Peninsula Plywood workers.

Harold Ranta, an original shareholder, said in the article that when he arrived in Port Angeles, the stack was being built.

“We poured the concrete for the stack in 6-foot sections and hauled everything up with a crane,” said Ranta, 88 when the article was written.

“I had to mix the mortar.”

Removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos is being conducted by workers walking around in white hazardous-materials suits, Hartman said.

Hazardous materials are placed into two plastic bags and a plastic-lined box, he said.

Other materials, such as large timbers, are being recycled.

The actual demolition of buildings is taking far less time than the hazardous-materials abatement, Hartman said.

At the commissioners' meeting, Calhoun suggested that a fact sheet be prepared as part of the port's public outreach effort that shows what is being recycled from the 19-acre site.

He recently toured the property, which ceased operations as a plywood mill in December 2010.

“What really struck me was the amount of recycling that's occurring on it,” Calhoun said.

“It really is the biggest part of the job.

“It should really be called a demolition, abatement and recycling project.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 14. 2013 5:18PM
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