Tonawanda, N.Y. (WBEN) - After a century of standing, it only took a matter of seconds for the symbolic smoke stacks at the former Tonawanda Coke site to come tumbling down Saturday morning.
Weeks of planning went into the explosive demolition at the former industrial site that was the subject of environmental battles in recent years and eventually forced to shut down.
Riverview Innovation and Technology Campus now owns the site, and they are responsible for the demolition, saying the concrete and steel stacks were demolished because they were deemed old and unsafe. Asbestos containing materials were removed, and the interiors of the stacks were inspected and sampled.
Prior to the implosion of the stacks, community officials and environmental activists spoke about the years of history that led to this moment and looked toward the future of the site.
"If I can borrow a phrase from 'Oklahoma!' the musical, 'Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day' this is," said Tonawanda Town Supervisor Joe Emminger. "Today is the day that our landscape is changing forever on the river. Those stacks behind me have stood here for 100 years...and it's just a proven fact that when communities and people work together, we can accomplish anything.
"It's the end of a sad chapter in our town's history and I'm glad it's over," Emminger continued. "It's going to bring a brighter future for our area. Our community is a much healthier community ever since they ceased operations in October 2018."
Jackie James was one of the more prominent activists in the long fight against Tonawanda Coke, and she explained the symbolic importance of the moment for the community.
"It represents a new beginning, and when the sun sets on the Tonawanda skyline this evening, these stacks will no longer be an eyesore on the horizon or a visual reminder of what these stacks did to our community," said James.
"I'll be honest, I'm emotional if you couldn't tell already," she added. "We spent over 16 years fighting for our right to breathe clean air, and we won. Today gives me hope because it reminds me that sometimes David beats Goliath."
Cleanup crews have been remediating the site since October of 2019. More than 4,000 tons of waste, asbestos, and other chemicals have been removed from the property. Emminger has been told that in late 2022 or early 2023 the site may be ready for future use.