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LIMESTONE, Maine — When officials with Engineered Products of Maine flip the switch this weekend to bring down the old heat plant at the former Loring Air Force base, they will have touched off the largest implosion in the state.
“This is the company’s biggest demolition project,” Steve Milley, president of Engineered Products of Maine, said in a prepared release. “We’ve been involved with several similar projects in Maine and along the East Coast but nothing of this magnitude.”
The public is invited to watch the implosion from a tented viewing stand 1,200-feet from the blast zone at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13.
“Implosion is the industry standard term,” Jennifer Gregor, operations manager with Engineered Products, said.
In a controlled building implosion, large structures — such as the four-story former Loring heat plant — are turned into a pile of rubble through a series of timed and carefully placed explosive charges which drop the building straight down without damaging any nearby structures.
There is a lot more to it than tossing in a match after a few sticks of dynamite.
In the case of the Loring building, Gregor said Precision Explosives — the company in charge of placing the charges — is using 290-pounds of dynamite with 105 blasting caps.
“An electrical current will spark the primary initiation,” Gregor said. “Then electronically the explosives take over”
What the viewing public will see, Gregor said, is first the collapse of the buildings five smoke stacks — the tallest is 230 feet — followed by the building itself falling away from the audience into a cloud of dust.
“From start to finish it will take six seconds,” she said.
It’s taken far longer than that to get things ready.
“They started prepping the building six weeks ago,” Gregor said. “An eight-man crew has been removing all hazardous material and cutting the steel in the proper direction for the installation of the shaped charges that will direct the building to fall in the designated direction.”
The old heat plant is a sealed building constructed of steel support beams. Gregor likened the preparation of that steel to a lumberjack preparing a tree for felling.
“It’s like cutting a notch into the tree so it falls in a certain direction,” she said. “The shape charges fit into those cuts in a certain way so when it blows, it blows in a certain direction.”
The only airborne detritus, she said, will be the dust produced by the building falling to the ground.
From 1947 to 1994 when it was shut down, the heat plant provided coal-powered heat and hot water to more than 10,000 officers, airmen, dependents and civilians who lived and worked on the base over the years.
Loring BioEnergy, which has plans for developing new energy infrastructure on the site, currently owns the building.
Carl Flora, president and CEO of Loring Development Authority, said he is anxious about the implosion but admitted to being a bit nervous.
“I just hope nothing falls on anything and it all falls the right way,” he said.
The nearest occupied building to the old heat plant is 1,000 feet away and Gregor said it is in no danger.
Based in Portland, Engineered Products of Maine is a demolition and concrete cutting company specializing in commercial and industrial demolition.
Gregor said the company hired locally for the steel cutting work inside the building and Precision Explosives did bring in their own crew from New York.
“Once the building is down, the biggest part of our job begins,” Gregor said. “We have to cut, process and remove all that steel which will be sold for salvage.”
On the day of the blast — which will take place rain or shine, Gregor said people should enter the base through Loring Commerce Drive where local police and fire department officials will be directing traffic.