Former Bunker Hill Co. employees should get a real bang out of seeing the mine’s massive smelter stacks come down.
That’s why a group of Kellogg residents and business owners are busy planning an employee reunion to coincide with the once-in-a-lifetime event.
They’ve even talked with the Environmental Protection Agency about the idea of selling raffle tickets for a chance to push the plunger that will ignite the dynamite that topples the stacks.
“They did that when they blew a smelter stack near Tacoma,” said Brenda Stinson, co-chairwoman of the newly formed Blowing Our Stacks committee. “I heard 100,000 people showed up, and ours are way more impressive.”
The smokestacks have become symbolic of widespread pollution in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin. Removal of the stacks will provide a tangible sign that cleanup is under way.
Before the concrete stacks were built, air emissions from the lead smelter were filtered through woolen bags. But a 1973 fire destroyed the baghouse, and a study done a year later showed epidemic lead poisoning in area children, said Earl Liverman, an EPA project manager for the Bunker Hill Superfund Site.
“Before the fire, emissions were on the order of 10 to 20 tons of particulates per month. After the fire, they were believed to range from 15 to 160 tons per month,” he said.
The concrete stacks were constructed in 1977 as a partial response to the problem, dispersing the contamination at higher elevations. Stinson, a former seamstress for Bunker Hill, remembers when they were poured.
“It was a continuous pour. Once it started they never stopped, not for days. It went up in a spiral, about six inches per hour. It was amazing,” she said.
By the time it was finished, the lead smelter stack rose 715 feet. The stack at the zinc plant, built the same year, was 610 feet tall. Even after Bunker Hill closed in 1981, the stacks had to be lighted to keep planes from crashing into them. The cost of lighting and maintaining the stacks runs $40,000 to $50,000 a year, Liverman said.
No one knows exactly when the stacks will be dynamited, but Liverman expects it to happen this year.
“We’ll need sufficient planning time, though we certainly hope to work with the community to let them take advantage of the event,” he said. “I’d say the earliest conceivable date is sometime in September or October.”
Meanwhile, the Blowing Our Stacks committee is in search of a logo depicting the demolition (entries may be dropped at McDonald’s or Todd’s Office Supply in Kellogg).
The group is considering a weekend of festivities, possibly including a street dance, a beer garden and a pancake breakfast. Proceeds from “Blowing Our Stacks” memorabilia would help fund youth activities, as well as the town’s Christmas Lighting Festival.
“It’s difficult to imagine the valley without the stacks, but that era’s over. We might as well wipe it out and start on the future,” Stinson said. “Personally, I think it’s going to be the biggest party this town’s ever seen.”
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