CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The sound of crumpling metal filled the air along the Elk River at the Freedom Industries site Wednesday.
Independence Excavators began the 2-3 week process of demolishing 10 tanks at the facility where more than 20,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for more than 300,000 West Virginian American Water customers back in January.
Freedom Chief Reconstruction Officer Mark Welch called Wednesday an important day.
“They’re tearing down the tanks. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
The tanks will come down one at a time. Independence is using an excavator to tear into the metal and pull apart the tanks. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin originally called for the demolition to get underway mid-March but that deadline was pushed back by delay after delay, including the discovery of asbestos.
Welch said getting to this point was the hard part. Now that all the preparation is complete, it’s just a matter of bringing down the tanks.
“Right now they’re cutting down 399. They’re going to work their way to 402 all this week, hopefully, and then start on 398 next week,” according to the CRO.
Welch said Independence is working on a very tight timeline.
“Hopefully two weeks, two and a half weeks, it will all be down!”
The demolition of the tanks is one of the final physical hurdles for Freedom to complete. Welch stressed they have all sorts of equipment on hand for any unexpected problems.
“We have liners set. We have dirt to fill. We have trucks to pump,” said the CRO.
And there are plenty of people on site to make sure everything goes according to plan, from workers at Freedom to Independence contractors and the watchful eye of the state DEP. Welch said it’s about getting this job done and done right.
“That’s why everybody is watching. They’re not having fun. They’re watching to see if anything happens,” he said.
The long-term impact of the chemical spill is still unknown. Many are hoping the demolition of the tanks will be one less reminder of the crisis and it’s consequences.