Calm before the storm. This view is now just a memory in a photograph. I photographed this shot at 7:15am on the way to the site.
© 2007 Mark R. Ducharme
Berlin's Pulp Mill Stacks Demolished
By Amy Quinton on Sunday, September 16, 2007
On New Hampshire Public Radio
A heavy rain fell on Berlin Saturday morning, but it didn’t stop hundreds of spectators from coming out to watch the pulp mill’s three smokestacks crumble.
Nestled between New Hampshire’s White Mountains and the Androscoggin River, the mill has stood for more than 100 years.
Berlin resident Colette (ca-let) Karen, whose family members lost jobs when the mill closed last year, found the rain and the grey skies fitting.
Colette “2:36 I think it’s sad, I think its a very emotional day, I think the rain is appropriate, puts a little damper on it … it’s history down the tubes, it really is.”
1035 (nat sound warning bell)
An alarm, usually meant to warn the city of forest fires, went off to mark the last minute before the planned detonation of the 300 foot tall stacks.
The demolition team, many of them former mill workers, stood huddled under tents…waiting.
One of them, Gerard (luv-vwar)LaVore, worked in the mill for 33 years.
He’s a big guy; his strong hands calloused and stained from his years of hard work.
But on this day, he had tears in his eyes.
Gerard a1 (it will be the last step here this is it, when they drop these stacks, we knew it would never be done…done up again, that’s it, it’s going to be the big blast today..this was the best part of my life up here, it was a beautiful place to work)
Stack blow (fire in the hole…sound of stack blowing up)
The first smokestack toppled over like a tree, just as planned.
While many people cheered as they felt the earth beneath them shake, LaVore called it a bittersweet ending to Berlin’s industrial past.
Gerard1 (A lot of people are happy it’s gone but there’s a lot of unhappy people too cause it was the highest wages of Berlin, if you worked here you got good money, that’s gone now, now we work at Walmart, there’s four or five guys that work there that don’t pay much money)
At its height in the 1950’s, the pulp mill employed close to 3,000 people.
But like many pulp mills in the U-S, it struggled to stay afloat with global competition and cheap overseas labor.
By 2006 when it shut down for good, only 250 employees remained.
Pete Markey worked there for 33 years and has spent the last year working with the dismantling company.
“Markey1 It’s been sad to watch the mill come down, I was employed with North American so I saw it day to day what was going on, it’s an end to an era, my Dad worked here 46 years, and I’m glad he didn’t see this day.”
Two of the three smokestacks fell without a problem.
But two explosions failed to bring down the third.
Kathryn Corrigan joked that maybe her late husband had something to do with that.
Her husband Rick had worked at the mill for 32 years, but died just four months ago.
3:29 this was his life this mill, it was his other home and his family, my kids just called and I said I think Daddy is holding the stack up (laughs) you know, so it’s a sad day.
Workers used torches to weaken the rebar in the stack’s concrete to finally bring the last one down.
The final collapse surprised many, and flying debris sent seven people to the hospital with bruises, sprains and broken ribs.
But despite the problems and the sorrow, some residents also saw the day as a new beginning for Berlin.
Marlene Russ of Errol says she’s happy to say goodbye to Berlin’s polluted past.
(when I was growing up here the air was so bad it was yellow, you would get sick from it, today if the stacks were going we would have a hard time breathing, it’s outdated, it’s outmoded, this is a great area for recreation, I think we would all be much better off to have this geared toward that type of a situation..)
At least one company hopes to change Berlin from a yellow past to green future. Laidlaw Energy has proposed converting part of the remaining mill to a renewable biomass facility.
Laidlaw officials say it would bring 40 jobs to Berlin and hopefully spark more business investment in the city.
For NHPR news, I’m Amy Quinton.