Landmark gone in 2 quick blasts
The old smokestacks at the Cameo generating station looked like gray bars set against a light gray background Wednesday morning as puffs of dark smoke billowed out from their bases and the canyon walls shook with the report of explosives.
The west stack, the taller and newer one, went first. It wobbled like a Star Wars Galactic Empire Walker under attack by Ewoks, then toppled and finally collapsed.
The second stack, the shorter, older one, was less stubborn, tumbling more compliantly into a heap as its foundation imploded.
“This has always been a landmark,” Curtis Petty said as he watched the stacks from across the Colorado River soon after the 6:34 a.m. sunrise that left the Cameo site illuminated by spotlights cutting through a heavy spring snowfall.
About the only things not gray were the ruddy brown Colorado River flowing by and the recollections of Neil Latka, who worked at Cameo as an instrumentation and control technician.
It was there that Latka met Donna, now his wife of 25 years, after he traveled from the Front Range to help deal with an outage at Cameo. She was the plant clerk and “I knocked her right off her feet,” Latka said.
Donna, however, was not so moved by the impending loss of the stacks that she joined Latka in watching them fall down.
That fell to Mike Hurd, who also worked at Cameo, who watched the toppling from the comfort and warmth of Latka’s SUV.
“It’s kind of sad,” Latka said of the impending loss of the stacks, the last reminders of the days when Colorado River water was heated by burning nearby coal to turn it into steam and spin a turbine, creating electricity for the growing communities just downstream.
And it was, Hurd said, “a beautiful setting for a plant” against the rugged brown and ochre walls of De Beque Canyon.
Destruction of the stacks marks another step “in the saga of Cameo, from coal town to power plant to possibly a shooting range,” Hurd said.
Palisade officials are marshaling support for a plan to build an archery and gun range on the Cameo site, but its future is far from decided.
More immediately, Xcel Energy is hoping to have the old plant site seeded by May 15. The only reminder of the generating station will be the electricity substation that will remain on site.
The original unit went on line in 1957 and the second, larger one was fired up in 1960.
Though early plans called for the stacks to be dropped into one another, limiting the breadth of the debris pile, officials decided to drop them along parallel lines running roughly southwest, away from the Cameo road that leads into the backside of the Bookcliffs.
“Everything went well,” Fred Eggleston, Xcel area manager, said of morning’s work. “When I left the jackhammers were already going” to break down the stacks into easily disposed-of chunks.
Eventually, the site that generated electricity for more than half a century is soon to take on a more meadow-like appearance.
“Right now we’ve got a lot of the area seeded and this weather is just perfect for that,” Eggleston said.