Was smokestack demolition blast a failure of planning or communication?

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“Control” is the goal with controlled demolition. It’s all about using the physics of the explosion and gravity, the understanding of the architecture and terrain and the art of experience to bring down the house — or skyscraper or ballpark or other structures.

But control is not always possible. Just because you want a perfect end result doesn’t mean you’ll get there.

In 2021, an apartment building in Turkey didn’t collapse neatly onto its own site. It tipped sideways and hit the building next door. In 2018, the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., resisted the first attempt to bring it down, requiring a second round of explosives. In 2012, the 275-foot smokestack at Ohio Edison’s Mad River Power Plant fell in the wrong direction, taking out two Westinghouse turbine generators.

Now there is the Cheswick Generating Station incident. Two smokestacks were taken down Friday. One was more than twice as tall as Mad River’s stack at 552 feet. The other was almost three times as tall at 750 feet.

They fell quickly, close to the publicized 8 a.m. schedule.

Other promises, however, were not on point, such as the demolition would cause minimal dust that would dissipate in minutes and that rain would wash it away.

Instead, the concussive force of the fall damaged power poles and electric lines. Service was knocked out for up to an hour.

Trees were “pushed down.” Properties were damaged. Windows were broken. The dust that blanketed cars and yards and swimming pools could not be called “minimal.”

Controlled Demolition Inc. definitely has a pedigree. The company took down Three Rivers Stadium. It was responsible for cleaning up the wreckage of the bombed Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center. But that doesn’t mean everything goes according to plan. Exactly how that might have happened is not yet known.

What we do know is the message of how things could affect the people of Springdale was not adequately conveyed.

Residents are expressing unhappiness with the damage and cleanup. They are not pleased the message they received ahead of time is at odds with the reality of the aftermath.

That kind of distrust leads to skepticism about other statements. People who see their property covered in debris, including what appears to be insulation, are now rethinking information they were given about the smokestacks being free of asbestos.

Mayor Joe Bertoline says the fall was precisely where it was supposed to be, but the blast of air from the fall was unexpected, calling it “a major hiccup.”

The real hiccup seems to be preparing people for a low-impact demolition with little fallout but delivering an outcome that looked anything but controlled.

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