FALL RIVER — The most prominent vestige of what was once the largest coal-fired power plant in New England crumbled Saturday morning as thousands of spectators cheered the collapse of two 500-foot cooling towers.
A controlled implosion of the concrete towers at the former Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset began just before 8 a.m. and was complete within seconds, sending a plume of smoke toward the Braga Bridge.
The rumble of the towers crashing to the ground could be heard throughout Mount Hope Bay. Crowds watched the spectacle at waterfront restaurants, parks, and aboard the USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove in Fall River.
In the moments before the 2,000 pounds of dynamite did its work, onlookers trained camera phones on the towers to capture the event. Conditions were windy and temperatures hovered in the 40s. Some people wrapped themselves in blankets. The towers’ demise did not disappoint.
“It was great,” said Ricardo Serrano, who videotaped the implosion from Kennedy Park in Fall River. “I never thought it was going to be so fast.”
Steve Collins, executive vice president of Commercial Development Company, Inc., the St. Louis, Mo., business redeveloping Brayton Point, said he was thrilled with the outcome.
About 50 to 60 feet of concrete on one tower survived the blast and will be demolished later, he said.
“Overall we feel really good about how it went,” said Collins, who watched the implosion from a ferry in the bay.
Somerset police and fire officials said the implosions unfolded as planned.
At Kennedy Park in Fall River, onlookers cheered and some chanted, “No more coal” as the towers fell. The Extraordinary Rendition Band from Providence, R.I., performed and an ice cream truck waited for customers in the parking lot.
“This is going to be once in a lifetime. I don’t want to sit on the couch all day and watch it on TV,” said David Rutkowski, 11, who watched the implosion from the park with his mother, Christine Hale.
The towers were the product of a 2007 settlement between the power plant operator and federal regulators who were alarmed by the facility’s practice of discharging warm water into the bay. Regulators and environmental groups linked the warmer water to the bay’s declining fish stocks.
The structures cost $600 million to build and became fully operational in 2012.
Dominion Energy Brayton Point, LLC stopped operating the power plant in May 2017 .
The following year, the property was purchased by Commercial Development Co. The company renamed the 308-acre site Brayton Point Commerce Center. It is being redeveloped as a manufacturing hub, port, and support center focused on the offshore wind industry.
In March, dynamite toppled three chimneys on the grounds.
The coal-fired power station was built in 1957. At the height of its operation, the plant employed more than 250 full-time workers and provided electricity to 1.5 million homes, according to Commercial Development Co.
Environmental groups celebrated the collapse of the towers.
Kendra Anderson, president of Climate Action RI, wore a sequined top she purchased for a Mardi Gras party and a fascinator headband of pink feathers. The group wanted to create a jazz funeral atmosphere for the occasion, Anderson said.
“It’s so fun. I didn’t imagine it being this electric,” she said.
Leo Mansi of Warren, R.I, and Nina Mach of Lakeville set up cameras on tripods to photograph the implosions.
Mach said she had become accustomed to the towers.
“I don’t mind them, but I realize they’re not the most photogenic things,” she said.
Mansi lamented the towers’ short, yet costly life.
“It seems like a big waste of money. Those are only 10 years old. It was $600 million to build them and we as utility payers paid for that,” he said.
Hale echoed Mansi’s concerns.
“It seems like they were just built and they’re coming down,” she said. “It is an eyesore. It just seems like so much money, so much time was wasted. It needs to be done, but it does seem like a waste.”
Owen Reuther, a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island, said some people believed Brayton Point was a nuclear power plant because of the cooling towers.
Reuther said he teaches sailing at the Tiverton Yacht Club in Rhode Island, where the stocky structures had become a familiar sight.
“It’s a big moment for this area,” said Reuther, an ocean engineering student from Portsmouth, R.I. “It’s a big step forward.”
The implosions required planning and coordination among public safety officials.
Rolling road blocks were conducted on Interstate 195 and Route 24, and traffic restrictions were implemented on some local roads in Somerset and Swansea.
Orange buoys were placed in the water to keep boaters from getting too close to the plant and the US Coast Guard conducted patrols.
Jessmanuel Ortiz, 13, watched the implosion from Kennedy Park with his grandmother, Madeline Maldonado, who is visiting from Bridgeport, Conn.
An eighth grader, Ortiz was philosophical about the towers’ fate. “It was bound to happen one day,” he said.
Bill Card, a mechanical engineer who helped design the towers’ circulating water system, traveled from Dorchester to watch the implosion. The occasion marked the end of an era, he said.
“The time of Brayton Point is done,” he said.
The concrete rubble from the towers, however, will stay at Brayton Point. Rebar will be removed from the wreckage, Collins said, and the remaining concrete will be broken down and reused at the site.