UPDATE: AEP implodes idle cooling tower at Big Sandy Power Plant

Published: Sep. 24, 2016 at 8:53 AM EDT
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UPDATE 9/25/16 @ 10:07 a.m.

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ky (WSAZ) – It’s a symbol of the falling coal industry with the implosion of a cooling tower at the Big Sandy Power Plant in Lawrence County, Kentucky.

Demolition crews used over 500 pounds of explosives to implode the 370 foot tall tower Saturday morning.

Roads near the blast site such as U.S. 23 in Kentucky and U.S. 52 in West Virginia were closed for the implosion.

The tower was one of two at the plant that was energized by coal to pull water from the Big Sandy River to cool 248,000 gallons of water a minute. By cooling the water, it could be re-circulated and reused in the power generation process. The closed system also meant that heated water was not discharged back into the river where it could disrupt the natural aquatic life.

New EPA regulations prohibited the use of coal and the plant went idle in May 2015. In May 2016, the plant powered up the southern cooling tower, this time with natural gases but decided to retire the northern tower.

Robert Armstrong worked at the plant for 30 years and retired in the early 1990s. Armstrong tells WSAZ it was emotional and bittersweet for him to not only see the tower that he saw go up in 1969 be destroyed, but be the one to push the detonator.

“I was overwhelmed,” says Armstrong. “I was here to see it built now I got to see it all come down.”

Armstrong says he never thought he would live to see not just the tower tumble, but the coal industry as whole. “I started working for the company in '54 and they told us if we liked it, and they liked us, we'd be there a lifetime, and here it is coming to an end.”

The plant’s manager, Aaron Sink was also on site for the implosion and he says it’s becoming obvious in the area just how much the communities have been hit with by the coal industry becoming less popular than it was.

“Coal has certainly been a big part of this community,” Sink says. “Prior to shutting down in 2015, this plant burned anywhere from two to three million tons of coal a year. So converting the unit to natural gas certainly has had an impact on this community.”

Sink says there are hopes for some sort of industrial development on the land that’s not used as much by the plant but there aren’t any plans in motion yet. Armstrong says he hopes to see something come along and give the area an economic boost.

“It’s just hard to see it come (to this), says Armstrong. “All the employment in this area, living in this area for so many years and now everything is just about closed down in the area. That’s unbelievable the change that's taken place.”

Kentucky Power provides service to about 169,000 thousand customers in 20 eastern Kentucky counties. The company announced earlier in the year plans to relocate headquarters from Frankfort to Ashland, where headquarters used to be.

ORIGINAL STORY 9/24/16 @ 8:58 a.m.

LOUISA, Ky. (WSAZ) -- If you hear a loud "boom" noise around 9 a.m. Saturday near Louisa, it is just a scheduled implosion.

The sound will be coming from the Big Sandy Power Plant in Louisa. That's where Kentucky Power plans to implode its Big Sandy Unit 2 cooling tower.

The cooling tower was idled when EPA guidelines led to the closure of the unit.

The tower, measuring 395 feet in diameter at its base and reaching 370 feet into the sky, will come tumbling down around 9:00 a.m. In addition to hearing a loud boom, you may feel vibrations from the blast.

During the implosion process, expect U.S. Route 23 in Kentucky, U.S. Route 52 in West Virginia and some secondary roads to be closed near the plant according to Lawrence County Emergency Management.

The roads are expected to be closed 10 minutes prior to the implosion and up to 20 minutes after to make sure the roads are safe and clear of debris.

Local law enforcement will be stopping traffic in both directions. Fish and wildlife officers also will be patrolling the Big Sandy River.