Port Kembla’s stack to fall

Four years after an application was lodged to remove Port Kembla’s iconic 200m-high copper chimney, debate continues about the best way to demolish the stack.

The Port Kembla copper smelter on the NSW south coast closed in 2003 with the plant's Japanese owners blaming weak copper prices and the strength of the Australian dollar.

However the 200m-high concrete stack remained erect.

Dominating the Port Kembla skyline, the stack can be seen from kilometres away.

Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, made the announcement that the stack would be demolished during an inspection of the old Port Kembla Copper site in 2010.

“While the 205-metre tall chimney stack on the site is considered an iconic landmark by some, it will be demolished because it is not structurally sound,” Kelly said at the time.

It is expected the clearing of the stack will free-up the land for use in other industrial projects. The sites proximity to Port Kembla harbour and BlueScope steel operations make it the ideal spot for redevelopment.

“The site is close to existing port facilities and is already serviced by significant infrastructure, meaning it is ready-made for redevelopment which, in turn, means new job-creating investment,” Member for Wollongong Noreen Hay said.

Original plans to demolish the stack using "controlled explosive demolition" have been scrapped after it was found that the chimney contained traces of asbestos, The Illawarra Mercury reported.

"The mass of asbestos is but a few kilograms, in a stack [weighing more than] 12,000 tonnes; however a risk exists of dust generation from this asbestos should the stack be demolished in a single piece," Port Kembla Copper (PKC) said.

However new plans by PKC presented to NSW planning to use a special crushing devise for the removal have been questioned by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

PKC wants to use a tower crane with specialised crushing equipment to pull down the stack in bits and pieces, a process they say will take at least four months.

PKC said the new plan will minimise noise, dust emissions and create fewer safety risks for nearby residents.

However the EPA said the new proposal does not sufficiently address possible environmental impacts and fails to determine possible safety issues.

"The stack is located about 100 metres from a main road, residential areas and a preschool," an EPA submission on the revised plan stated.

"Moderate to strong winds are common in the area and can vary seasonally. The EA [environmental assessment] does not appear to consider the wind conditions under which the crushing operations can be satisfactorily carried out without resulting in an off-site impact."

The EPA said NSW Planning should seek an independent review of the demolition proposal "by a suitably qualified expert" before making its decision.

The Port Kembla Pollution Committee, representing Port Kembla residents, also lodged an objection to the proposal.

Residents say they will have to deal with the demolition for 11 hours a day for more than four months and are concerned about safety, air quality and noise.

"Constant and daily monitoring of air and noise should be part of the conditions of consent," the group wrote.

Earlier this year a group called Left Field Logic proposed a way to save the structure.

Releasing a proposal called ‘Stacks Up’ architect Geoff Borst said the stack could be supported and the lower part encased with a strengthening wrap.

Designs include a viewing platform which the group say would provide visitors with views of much of the Illawarra including its coastline, industry and escarpment.

The proposal, which will also incorporate a museum, is being examined by a company in the Illawarra with experience in saving concrete structures.

The group said Port Kembla Copper indicated it would look at the final proposal.

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