Safety plan in place for smokestack demolition

Site of old Sappi Paper Mill in Muskegon will be redeveloped

Sappi Paper Mill, smokestack
The old Sappi Paper Mill smokestack in Muskegon that will be demolished Tuesday. (July 17, 2017)


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the smokestacks at the old Sappi Paper Mill is set to come down Tuesday morning, marking the start of a transition along Muskegon Lake as business leaders plan to develop the property.

The demolition process is scheduled to start around 7 a.m. Tuesday. From 6:30 a.m. to about 11 a.m., Lakeshore Drive will be closed from McCracken Street to Cottage Grove Street. Several side streets about two blocks south to Morton Avenue will also be closed. The Muskegon Department of Public Safety says it will set up an about 1,000-foot perimeter to ensure safety.

Sappi Paper Mill, Muskegon
An undated photo of the now-demolished Sappi Paper Mill. (Courtesy Pure Muskegon)

The mill shut down in 2009. Four years later in 2013, the powerhouse, a 200-foot steel building that supplied power to the mill, came crashing down as it was imploded. All that was left was the two smokestacks.

Since then, there has been massive cleanup efforts, but Muskegon Public Safety Director Jeff Lewis says Stack 1 was too dangerous for workers to scale and try to clean.

Lewis said officials in the city building department consulted with an engineering firm, which determined the stack was in imminent danger of collapse. There needed to be immediate action.

Sappi Paper Mill
The smokestacks at the old Sappi Paper Mill that will be demolished. (July 6, 2017)

Tuesday’s demolition won’t be an explosion.

“It’s not being blown up or blowing out. It’s going to be just set up, cut and then tripped so it falls on the site,” Lewis said.

Lewis says there’s an expansive effort in place to ensure the safety of the surrounding community, particularly because the stacks are covered with asbestos-lined paint.

“The city is required that they have a very in-depth air monitoring system set up and that’s one reason that Lakeshore will be closed for quite some time because they will be attempting to detect any particulate that left the site,” Lewis said.

There will testing afterward with same-day results to see if any asbestos dust may have left the site.

Lewis says the weather pushed back the demolition because the wind is key in minimizing any potential exposure.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SAPPI PAPER MILL SITE

The demolition process that started in 2013 been quite the spectacle for some business owners across from the site.

“Fantastic,” Habs Good Eats N’ Treats owner Jon Habetler said. “A guy who normally cooks food, you get a chance to see stuff like that happen out there. I mean, it never gets to happen at any other kitchen. So it’s been very educational every step of the way.”

Habetler said business suffered when the mill closed. He was thrilled when Pure Muskegon, a group of business owners, purchased the property last year with the intent of developing it.

“Whether it’s here or there or down the road this way or down at marinas this way, it’ll all have a positive impact,” Habetler said.

Pure Muskegon spokesman Wes Eklund said the group bought the 120-acre property in early August 2016 for roughly $6 million. The plan is to redevelop it for mixed use, with Eklund saying there may be residential, retail, restaurant and office space, as well as a living complex for seniors. There could also be a hotel and small marinas.

But, Eklund noted, nothing is set in stone — Pure Muskegon is still looking for developers and doesn’t yet have a timeline for redevelopment.

Eklund is confident the development will help transform Muskegon. He said developers are seeing 20 to 25 percent increases in property values from current investment.