The sounds rang out like shotgun blasts in Bowleys Quarters Friday morning, before the iconic towers of the C.P. Crane Generating Station toppled to the earth.
From hundreds of feet away, crews detonated 688 linear-shaped charges placed strategically throughout the old power plant, said Mark Loizeaux, owner of Controlled Demolition Inc. The explosives generated about 3 million pounds of pressure per square inch, he said, and in under 20 seconds, the structure fell to the ground in a cloud of dust and debris.
It was an awe-inspiring display, residents said.
“It was really loud. You could feel it in your chest when it went off,” said Mark Lotz, who has lived just across Seneca Creek from the power plant for 18 years.
The crew planned the explosion based on wind direction to minimize the amount of dust deposited on neighboring homes, and the company was pleased with the result, Loizeaux said. The dust, including coal dust, spread out toward the water instead. One of the buildings toppled onto its side rather than fully imploding, but that was also according to plan, he added.
Cleaning up the materials on the site of the shuttered coal-fired power plant will likely take about six months, Loizeaux said. Steel and other metals will be harvested and recycled, he said.
Crews from another contractor prepared the buildings for demolition, removing any hazardous materials, such as asbestos, in advance, he said.
For workers from Controlled Demolition, based in nearby Phoenix, the implosion felt like a “company picnic,” Loizeaux joked. The company completes jobs in distant places like Turkey and Mexico, so it was special for them to join together to execute a demolition close to home — although not necessarily out of the ordinary. The company also completed the demolition of Southern Seafood Co. to make way for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Current site developer Forsite is considering redeveloping the property for residential purposes, a representative said during a July meeting of the Baltimore County Planning Board. The company was asking for a designation change that could bring public sewer and water service to the property, and the representative noted that it was reducing the planned density of the housing units in response to concern from community members.
The issue is likely to be taken up again at the planning board’s Sept. 1 meeting, said Jim Hock, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association.
Community members like Hock worry that building homes there could attract troublesome traffic, among other crowding issues. For instance, Carroll Island Road is the only one leading to the old power plant site, and could easily become snarled by large numbers of cars, he said. Hock is hopeful the site could be turned into a natural area with supporting funds.
Lotz, 58, said he took off from work Friday morning so he could see the implosion, partially because he was worried that his home or his boat could sustain damage. But all was well in the aftermath, he said.
About 20 people clustered in Lotz’s yard to watch the display. People stood in neighboring yards, too, and people parked boats just outside the blast zone to watch from the water.
Afterward, seeing the skyline without those red-and-white striped stacks was remarkably strange, Lotz said.
“It is an empty hole in the sky right now,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Like many others, Lotz said he used the steel stacks to guide him while returning home on his boat. Long before the advent of GPS, the stacks were a faithful landmark that stood out above the tree line, and came to represent life along the creek.
“Every picture that you have of your family on the front lawn has that plant on it,” he said.
Last night, Lotz went out on his boat with friends, and everyone snapped photos of the plant, keenly aware that they’d be the last sunset shots of C.P. Crane.
For some residents, though, the stacks inspired fewer sentimental pangs.
The Morning Sun
Hock said he was glad to see them go. Over the past several years, with the plant not in operation, the stacks haven’t been maintained as carefully as they once were, he said. Paint could be seen peeling from the structures as they grew older.
“I can imagine what it would look like in 10 more years if it wasn’t taken down,” he said.
The coal-fired plant was dedicated in 1961, and The Sun labeled it “the largest and most efficient generating unit” of Baltimore Gas & Electric. The plant was sold by BGE’s parent company Exelon in 2012, and it would change hands a few times before being sold in early 2016 to C.P. Crane LLC, which is affiliated with the New York private equity firm Avenue Capital Group and Middle River Power.
In 2018, the plant closed under an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment, which fined the company about $100,000 over excessive releases of particulate matter, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide. The company expressed a desire to transition the plant to burning natural gas, but received backlash from the community. Now, the site has changed hands again.
Seeing the building crumple was a sign of progress for some residents. Perhaps the only disappointment was that the stacks simply leaned over and tipped toward the trees, rather than imploding straight down, “like on a movie set,” said Hock’s wife, Joanne.
Still, the resulting view was worth the trouble, she added.
“The scenery with the trees and the waterfront is beautiful — without having to look at what they call the ‘Cat in the Hat’ stacks,” she joked.