Posted: 10:00 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012

Ohio Edison sues over botched smokestack demolition


Stack demo caused $19M in damage photo
Bill Lackey
The former Ohio Edison Mad River Power Plant’s 275-foot smoke stack crushes surrounding buildings as it falls the wrong way during its demolition Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

By Everdeen Mason

A power company has sued over the botched demolition of its smokestack, accusing a contractor of negligence that caused more than $19 million in damage.

FirstEnergy Generation Corp and its sister company Ohio Edison filed a lawsuit last week against three companies involved in the demolition of the Mad River Power Plant two years ago.

The suit filed in the Clark County Common Pleas Court also details for the first time what might have lead the 275-foot-tall smokestack to fall the wrong way, pointing to a failure to cut a rebar and the way explosives were used.

Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc., Bet-Tech Construction Co. and Independence Excavating Inc. were involved in the project and are named in the suit. The Springfield News-Sun contacted all three contractors, but none of them returned calls Tuesday.

AED is accused in the suit of negligence, as well as other claims. Bet-Tech and Independence are accused in the suit of violating contract and liability claims.

The accident received national and international attention, particularly after a News-Sun video captured the smokestack falling the wrong way and onlooking employees and media members ran for cover.

The smokestack destroyed two Westinghouse turbine generators used by FirstEnergy for peak power demands and transmission lines, according to the lawsuit. FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said the company is suing for the cost of replacing and repairing equipment.

“Contrary to established industry practice, (Advanced Explosives Demolition) failed to cut the rebar on the rear of the stack,” according to the complaint. Cutting that material would have weakened the structure in that spot and caused the stack to fall in the right direction, the lawsuit says.

“AED chose to use additional explosives at that location,” the suit says. “This practice had the unintended effect of causing the stack to collapse on itself, and as a result, the direction of the collapse was uncontrolled.”

Not only that, but the use of explosive delays created more instability, according to the complaint, and caused additional lack of control over where the stack was going to fall.

So instead of falling east into a cleared area, the smokestack fell southeast onto the turbines and two 12,500-volt power lines that were above a crowd of about 25 onlookers. No one was hurt, but about 4,000 people lost power for several hours.

Previously, AED owners had said the accident was caused by an undetected crack in the tower that pulled it in the wrong direction.

The lawsuit also alleges the three companies contracted for the demolition, which cost more than $4.7 million, violated parts of the project contract that says contractors will pay for any damages caused by their actions.

Durbin said he cannot comment on ongoing litigation so he couldn’t say if the companies had refused to reimburse FirstEnergy or simply had not paid yet.

“We go through a process with a claim like this and if you don’t think you’re going to get what you need to get, that’s where we’re at right now,” he said.

Large piles of debris from the accident is still visible on the property two years later. Durbin said he didn’t know what FirstEnergy will do with the site.

“It’s something we’re looking at,” Durbin said. “There are any number of options right now. The focus is in trying to resolve these issues and see what will happen with this site in the future.”


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