Three massive emissions stacks at the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near Page came down Friday with thundering detonations that erased them from the skyline they dominated for decades.
The demolition of the largest coal burner in the West is a milestone for environmentalists who fought, and continue to fight, to shift the country to renewable energy. But it was a somber moment for the hundreds of people who worked at the plant, some following multiple generations of family members before them, who benefited from the good-paying jobs.
When the plant was running at full capacity, the 775-foot-tall stacks were the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation, but the coal-burning days for the station ended last year as utilities decided to purchase cheaper power from natural-gas plants and renewables like solar.
Now the stacks will no longer linger in the background of tourists’ photos at the famous Antelope Canyon slot canyons and Lake Powell.
The coal plant, and mine 80 miles away that fed it, employed about 750 people before operations began to wind down two years ago, and nearly all of the workers were Navajo and Hopi.
Hundreds of people lined the highways and cliff sides outside Page on Friday to watch the demolition, which sent a huge plume of dust creeping across the landscape.
Among those who braved the freezing morning temperatures to watch the demolition was Melanie Howard of Kaibito, who teaches Navajo language and culture to third and fourth graders in Tuba City, about 80 miles away.
“This is going to be part of my lesson plan,” she said sitting on a rock a few miles from the plant waiting for the detonation.
She offered students extra credit to watch the event.
“This is Navajo culture,” she said.
Howard’s son worked as a welder at the power plant, and her daughter was a pipe fitter there. Both now need to travel from the region for work. Howard ticks off several other family members who worked at the plant.
Besides the jobs, the plant, mine and railroad between them are landmarks for the people living in the region. Howard said she often woke to the sound of the early morning trains, using them as an alarm clock.
“This is a landmark,” she said of the emissions stacks. “When you drive in from Big Water (Utah), you see it and you know you are close to home.
But environmentalists have urged the plant’s closure for years, noting its contribution to climate-warming greenhouse gasses, the impact from the coal mine on the land and water, and the other pollutants that came out of the emissions stacks creating haze over the region.
“I’m relieved,” said Hopi environmental activist Dennis Howard after the stacks toppled. “It’s been a struggle for a long time.”
Howard, a board member of the Black Mesa Trust, made the long drive from Second Mesa to watch the demolition.
“I don’t feel remorse,” he said. “I do feel for the people of Page.”
Dennis said his group and others have long urged officials to develop more…
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