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Questions Remain After Partial Demolition Of Wood River Power Station

Workers watch from a safe distance as the main structure of the former Wood River Power Plant in East Alton is brought down by explosives on Feb. 1.
File Photo / Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Workers watch from a safe distance as the main structure of the former Wood River Power Plant in East Alton is brought down by explosives Monday. Three smokestacks that some Madison County residents are concerned could release potentially harmful pollutants were not part of the demolition at the former Dynegy coal-fired power plant.

EAST ALTON — The main building of the Wood River Power Station was takendown Monday morning, but a last-minute change in demolition plans means the defunct coal plant’s three smokestacks remain standing.

A representative from the Wood River Drainage and Levee District said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested information relating to the safety of the levee and wants time to review it before the implosions.

Environmental groups and local residents expressed concern that an implosion of these stacks could send a toxic cloud of dust over nearby communities.

Many of those concerns lingered after Monday’s demolition sent up a cloud of dark dust, said Andrew Rehn, a civil engineer with the Prairie Rivers Network, an organization that works on water, land and pollution issues across Illinois.

“You see a video like this and just wonder, ‘Where is this going? What’s in all this dust and smoke?’” he said. “[We’re] left with the same questions going into [the demolition] wondering, ‘What do people need to know about this?’”

Others worried how the large demolition affected the unlined coal ash ponds nearby.

“What happens when a building like that goes down? What is it doing to those ponds?” said Toni Oplt, chair of the Metro East Green Alliance, a group of area residents focused on environmental issues. “How fragile are they?”

Rehn said the same questions environmental groups raised about the smokestacks endure, because they haven’t been imploded yet. But he added the delay gives groups like his more opportunity to get answers.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some questions answered about what the smokestack demolition is going to look like,” Rehn said.

Monday’s implosion also underscored how little community outreach there was before the building came down, Oplt said. Residents as far away as Collinsville and Florissant reported hearing or feeling the demolition Monday morning.

“It's quite clear from looking at reactions on Facebook to that video that most people were just not aware,” she said. “Where’s the community conversation? Why [is the property owner] not talking to the community?”

Commercial Liability Partners, which owns the Wood River Power Station, did not respond to a request for comment.

Oplt worries about what a lack of transparency around the demolition of coal plants will mean not only for the Wood River area but the other sites across Illinois where coal plants are set to come offline or have already been closed. She added many of these communities are not wealthy and need protections moving forward.

“How communities come back, and become resilient, how they build wealth for themselves is intricately tied to how these companies behave as they leave these communities,” she said. “It depends on this relationship that isn’t happening.”

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.