The top of the digester building on Bellingham’s waterfront was torn down in spectacular fashion Monday, Nov. 23.
Crews from Rhine Demolition spent the morning cutting support beams under the large green chip bins that made up the top half of the structure.
The bins were once used to pour wood chips into the massive digester tanks below, where they were turned into pulp with steam and acid as part of the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp mill operations.
Dozens of people braved the cold weather to watch from the bridge at Chestnut and Bay streets, though many who had been waiting since 10 a.m. had to leave before the structure was finally toppled at 12:35 p.m.
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Those who were able to stay, such as Dave Robb of Camano Island, who said he happened upon the crowd Monday morning, were treated to quite a show.
It felt like an earthquake.
Mark Lamb, Bellingham resident who lives near waterfront
After attaching stabilizing cables to three excavators, crews detached the I-beams one by one from what used to be the outside walls of the building.
As the last beam on the south side of the building was cut, the bins started to sway from side to side on the weakened center beams.
Then, what the crowd was waiting for: The excavators pulled on their cables, and the top of the building crashed to the ground with a boom that shook nearby windows and buildings and sent a plume of dirt and dust into the air.
The crash was met with cheers from those who saw it. Those who didn’t said they were startled.
Dianne VanderWoude said she was walking on Grand Street when she felt the shaking.
“Everybody came out of their buildings to see what had happened,” VanderWoude said. “I could tell it came from the waterfront, but I had no idea what it was.”
Mark Lamb was reading in his place at the Mount Baker Apartments when the floor shook.
“It felt like an earthquake,” he said. He pulled the blinds and then headed down Bay Street to find out what the ruckus was about.
Todd Guiton, who lives near the former National Guard Armory building, said he had heard of the plan to pull down the bins and kept an eye through the window before heading down to grab some video of the big moment.
“It was intense,” Guiton said. “Slow-motion intense.”
After the air cleared, the crumpled green bins could be seen at the foot of the building and digester tanks, which remain standing.
The building is the second to be taken down this fall — the bark and chipper building already has been removed.
The three oldest tanks will be kept at the site for the foreseeable future, along with a spherical acid-collector tank that sits behind the building. The motor and chipping wheel from the other building were kept, along with some other elements, which could be preserved and featured in displays as the waterfront is redeveloped.
As with the other demolitions that have taken place on the waterfront, the plan is to recycle as many of the materials in the buildings as possible. By weight, 95 percent of the previous buildings were recycled.
ABOUT THE DEMOLITION
The Bellingham Herald went inside the two buildings this summer before they were demolished. Watch the short video: