LAUGHLIN -- With white smoke and dust flowing out its top, the 500-foot-tall concrete smokestack of the Mohave Generation Station crashed to the ground in dramatic fashion Friday.
The controlled implosion of the 40-year-old landmark sent up a cloud of dust that caused many of the hundreds of spectators to cover their mouths and noses with paper towels and shirt sleeves.
"It was absolutely the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said Carolyn Watts, the wife of a former plant worker who traveled from Orange County, Calif., to observe the 9 a.m. implosion with some 500 spectators.
"I could just feel the concussion. It was so emotional ... and an absolutely incredible experience," she said.
Explosive charges set by NCM Demolition blasted the base of the stack, which settled into the desert floor like a giant candle sinking into frosting on a birthday cake. Then, after a moment's pause, it toppled toward the ground seemingly in slow motion before it hit with a thud and sent up a wall of dust that dimmed sunlight as it rolled slowly northeast and lingered over the town's riverfront casinos.
The spectacle of the implosion brought shouts of joy to many in the crowd and sadness to others.
For Dave Mallory, a 47-year-old disabled welder from Kingman, Ariz., who worked at the plant for 21 years, the event was "like going to a funeral."
"I spent a lot of hours and a lot of blood, sweat and tears keeping this place running. Seeing it shut down, chopped up and turned into scrap metal is hard for me."
Laughlin Township Constable Jordan Ross said the implosion marked "a major change in the landscape. This smokestack has actually been here literally since before there was a town. This plant had been part of the economy for a long time."
The plant, about 90 miles south of Las Vegas, was closed Dec. 31, 2005, when its coal and water supply contracts expired. If new coal and water supply agreements had been reached, the plant's co-owners had committed to install $1.2 billion in the latest emission control technology upgrades for post-2005 operations, said Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander.
Although the dust cloud wafted over spectators and shrouded downtown Laughlin for at least 20 minutes, Alexander said the implosion "went largely as expected."
Jack Bingham, a staff member with Clark County's Department of Air Quality and Environmental Management, was on site to observe the implosion, which involved a small amount of asbestos gasket material in the stack's interior walls. He said he was not aware of any problems with the implosion that had been permitted as long as the sustained wind speed was not greater than 10 mph.
"There's nothing we can do about the dust in an implosion," he said.
The Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association sued the owners of Mohave Generating Station, because of haze over the Grand Canyon and other air pollution that was caused by the plant. The plant owners in 1999 agreed to a federal court order that required additional air pollution reduction by December 2005.
For Rick Moore, associate director of Grand Canyon Trust, a regional conservation group, the implosion was "very symbolic."
"It signifies the final end of an exclamation point to a power plant that has really polluted air over the Grand Canyon for more than 30 years," said Moore, who was less than a half mile away when the stack plummeted onto the Mojave Desert.
Since 1971, the plant had generated electricity for Southern California Edison and three other entities, including the former Nevada Power Co., by burning a coal slurry piped from the Black Mesa strip mine, 273 miles away across the Colorado River in Arizona. At the generating station, the granules were drained and pulverized into coal dust that was dense but fluffy as talcum powder.
In the plant's heyday in the early 1990s, the burning of coal dust sent 232 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the air each day. When wind blew in the direction of the Grand Canyon, about 100 miles northeast, the pollutants were suspected by scientists of tainting the view of the nation's scenic national park.
Vinny Spotleson, the Sierra Club's regional field organizer in Las Vegas, hailed the stack's implosion as the start of a new era of power generation by Southern California Edison.
"This is the first event in a nationwide transition that begins in the Southwest moving away from coal and toward clean energy," he said.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.