CHULA VISTA, Calif. — A flock of birds flew away from the site, as if the avians knew something big was coming. Geysers of water were sprayed into the air, to keep down the dust.
And then a series of explosions broke the Saturday morning calm and, within seconds, the South Bay Power Plant, an admired and yet hated fixture on the coastline of Chula Vista since 1960, tumbled down into history and rubble.
Two hundred pounds of charges detonated 300 pounds of dynamite and the 165-foot structure of concrete and metal folded inward on itself.
Cheers arose from the crowd estimated at upward of 7,000 persons, many of whom had waited for hours, cameras at the ready.
“It’s crazy but I grew up here and it’s always been part of our life,” said Susan Bonner, 60, dabbing tears from her eyes. “I’m going to miss its great big, ugly, hulking presence.”
Wes Jordan, 25, who works for a sandblasting company, was here because, as he explained, “implosions are just cool to watch and besides I never got to watch them bring down the Sands in Las Vegas.”
A gaggle of elected officials watched from a VIP section – their dreams of turning the property into a park and hotel were now one step closer. The explosions, which went off on schedule at precisely 7 a.m., were brief but the politicking and permitting process had been lengthy.
“In reality, it’s taken us 14 years to get this massive structure to ‘instantly’ disappear,” said Shirley Horton, former Chula Vista mayor and former state Assembly member.
The current mayor, Cheryl Cox, called the implosion “extraordinary” and declared herself “happy, very, very happy.” The event, she said, “marks the end of an era for a structure that has, famously and infamously, stood on our waterfront for half a century.”
The site, she said, will become home to “the world-class destination we deserve.”
When it was built, the plant provided badly-needed electricity to allow the region to expand and broaden its economy.
But if the politicians had bittersweet memories, the attitude of environmentalists was “good riddance” to the plant that has been shut down since 2010 but during its active life was branded a major polluter.
Laura Hunter, an official with the Environmental Health Coalition, said the plant was “the poster child for our fossil-fuel past” and from an era when it was seen as politically acceptable to belch pollutants into the water and air, particularly if the downwind communities “are populated by people of color.”
More work needs to done before the site is clean, under a $43-million cleanup project, including the removal of 21 tons of salvage metal and 3,400 tons of other non-hazardous waste. Two companies with extensive experience in demolition and dismantlement – Oakland-based Silverado Contractors Inc. and Tulsa, Okla.-based Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp. – are in charge.
Bill Wright, 57, a mechanical engineer employed by the Navy “to repair ships,” watched the process with scientific detachment, neither sentimental nor joyous.
“It’s something to do on a Saturday morning,” he said. “We don’t get things like this in Chula Vista very often – actually, we’ve never had anything like this.”
Los Angeles Times