By TIM HORAN
Area residents who may recall the beauty of a cold winter night, snow covering the ground and steam rising from the two stacks at what was Riverside Power Plant as it sent warmth, power and light to Abilene and the surrounding area might be a little sentimental today.
On Tuesday, the stacks towering over the generators that sent electricity to Abilene and the surrounding area for decades were taken down. The event attracted a crowd of about twenty vehicles and spectators.
“The demolition of the building started today and will continue this week,” said Patrick Kennedy, project manager with Westar.
Monday, crews tore out the small switch yard next to the plant and the small water tower, he said.
“Over the next couple days, they will start taking down the building in stages, working towards the river,” Kenney said.
The demolition drew a crowd of spectators who watched south of the building Monday and Tuesday.
Workers cut the base of the stacks, much like a woodcutter would cut a tree. Using a crane, a cable was tied to the base of each stack which was pulled north as the towers fell south.
The first stack came down around 3:35 p.m. The second was just before 5 p.m. as a cable broke on the first try of the demolition of the second smokestack.
“Whenever we talk about dismantling these sites, it hurts our hearts as much as it does anyone,” said David Walter, manager of plant support engineering with Westar, when it was announced that the plant was being razed. “We have nurtured them through the years. They were the primary vehicle we used to serve our customers for generations. It’s hard to see them come down but there comes a time for everything. It’s going to be nostalgic for a lot of people.”
The plant was last used in 1984 when a snowstorm left Abilene and the area without electricity.
“The plant heroically started on a cold March day when everything was covered with ice and provided electricity to the city,” said David Walter “That was the last time the unit ran.”
The site was where C.L. Brown first founded United Power and Light. Later, that company merged with Kansas Power and Light in 1935. The plant was called the Abilene Riverside Station Steam Power Plant and later called the Abilene Energy Center Steam Powered Station by Westar.
“We have not spent a lot of money on upkeep,” Walter said. “We’ve tried environmental mitigations. We have removed most of the equipment from inside the plant and tried real hard not to have a lot of expense with regard to maintaining the site.
“A number of years ago we started planning to dismantle the site because of concerns over the structural integrity of the building,” he added. “The condition of the building right now is such that we have some significant concern over it collapsing. Also in today’s world, scrap prices are favorable. It makes for a good time, economically, to approach the dismantling.”
According to the US Army Corps of Engineering, it was built in 1929, expanded in 1939-1940 and expanded again in 1946.