Tear-down of 71-year-old Port Angeles mill begins
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
An excavator razes one of the huge mill buildings at the former Peninsula Plywood plant in Port Angeles.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Heavy equipment operators seated inside giant-clawed excavators are demolishing a plywood mill complex that for 71 years symbolized the North Olympic Peninsula's rich timber heritage.

Rhine Demolition LLC of Tacoma recently began tearing down the former Peninsula Plywood plant at 439 Marine Drive under a $1.6 million contract with the Port of Port Angeles.

The port owns the 19-acre waterfront site, a patchwork of buildings constructed over seven decades just three blocks west of central downtown's Lincoln and First Street intersection.

The taxing district has set aside $450,000 in 2013 for demolition and cleanup and expects to spend about $3.1 million from 2013 to 2017 for environmental cleanup.

It's been shuttered since PenPly departed in December 2011, and the port plans to make the site suitable for marine trades.

“It will be exciting to see this property be put back to productive use for this area,” said port Director of Engineering Chris Hartman last week.

The Class of 2000 Port Angeles High School graduate led a tour of the bare, 180,000-square-foot mill building the size of the local Walmart Supercenter, where heavy equipment already is eating away at the roof.

“Remember to clock out” says a yellow sign, a sole vestige of what was once industrial hustle and bustle.

A 30-horsepower compressor hums, keeping ancient pipes dry to prevent them from cracking in the winter cold.

Demolition of all buildings should be completed by May, a month ahead of schedule, Hartman said.

Two lathe buildings were key to processing logs harvested from the Peninsula's thick forests.

The logs were placed on lathes and spun while the bark was stripped bare.

One of the buildings was leveled two weeks ago, when demolition started.

Another, still standing, processed 10-foot logs up to 7 feet in diameter that were floated inside the building.

An excavator, its claw holding a slat of I-beam, delicately scraped the roof off the mill building like a barber shaving whiskers.

Below a man in a white haz-mat suit sprayed water on a pile of rubble to keep down toxic dust that may have contained deadly asbestos, Hartman said.

The state Department of Ecology has made a $2 million grant available to the port to help pay for the demolition and cleanup.

The completion of environmental cleanup — the end of which will mark the site's suitability for marine trade businesses — is targeted for the end of 2017,

The agency is overseeing the cleanup of petroleum-based contaminants, including pollution present under buildings in soil and groundwater, but first the structures must be removed.

Pollutants that accumulated over seven decades include benzene, a component of gasoline that increases the risk of cancer, and PCP, which can harm organs and the immune system.

Logs also were used to build the plant, some of the massive timber being exposed during demolition and headed for recycling.

“Everyone that's been associated with the history of our economy around Port Angeles views that mill as a symbol of that history,” Port board President John Calhoun said last week.

Hartman's grandfather and uncle worked at the plant. “You will find a lot of people around town with stories of family members who worked there,” he said.

The site's towering 175-foot stack, which bears a former name of a mill there — KPly — will be among the last structures to vanish.

A chunk of the stack will be taken out of one side, explosives will be packed into the other, and the huge cylinder will be felled like a tree.

The stack lords over not only PenPly but the busy log yard of Munro LLC on the site's eastern edge, where denuded logs cut from private lands and bound for foreign markets are piled like giant Pick Up Stix.

The detritus is prime biomass fuel for paper mills, such as Nippon Industries USA about 2 miles west.

The port's own log exports, trees cut from U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources lands, are bound for Puget Sound markets.

“It's really important for people to understand that that we need to build on new opportunities and not abandon the viable parts of our timber economy,” Calhoun said.

“Because those old plywood mills like [PenPly] are not part of our timber industry anymore does not mean our timber industry is not critically important.”

A freeze-frame camera the port has installed is taking hourly photos of the demoliton from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The images are available at www.portofpa.com.

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

Last modified: December 30. 2012 6:17PM
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