Demolition of Abandoned Sugar Factory in Eastern Colorado Saves Millions in Project Costs
Innovative, open-air demolition process reduces price tag by more than 50%
he small town of Ovid rests in the far northeast corner of Colorado near the Nebraska border. While its modern amenities are limited to a couple of restaurants, a grocery and a gas station, the town retains a significant historical landmark: the gleaming white silos that stored beet sugar from what once was the Great Western Sugar Co. factory.
Built during the booming sugar economy of the early 1900s, Ovid’s huge sugar factory was built with coal, steam and mules. The town incorporated in 1925 during the factory’s construction, and by 1940 had grown to a resident population of 650—twice its population today.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s sugar economy faded with the expiration of the Sugar Act in 1974. Ovid’s factory closed in 1976 and by September 2006, the entire domestic beet-sugar industry had become grower-owned.
Amalgamated Sugar, a cooperative of sugar-beet farmers, bought the Ovid property in 2002. It had been long abandoned, except for the warehouse and silos, which were still in use. However, co-op members didn’t anticipate the liability they had taken on with the purchase of the property.
As with other abandoned sugar factories that now dot the rural landscape, Ovid’s abandoned factory was truly dangerous—structurally unsound and riddled with asbestos. In 2011, a death at an abandoned sugar factory in Eaton, Colo.—a 23-year-old man died after plunging 75 ft from the roof while exploring the ruins—brought attention to the need to demolish and abate the sites.
Amalgamated Sugar committed to abate and demolish the factory site, which included 11 smaller buildings, the 116,000-sq-ft mill building, and a 146-acre site.
The enormous price tag for the job would have to be borne by the cooperative’s 750 farmers, with no return on their money. The co-op deemed the investment worthwhile—for no other purpose than to eliminate Amalgamated’s looming liability. They contracted with Schafer Environmental Consulting, Lakewood, Colo., to devise a plan for abatement and demolition that would leave only the sugar storage silos and one warehouse standing.
For five years, Schafer conducted extensive research and worked a complex series of proposals with the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Several abatement and demolition firms bid on the project, intending to use traditional methods, which meant fully containing the structure in poly sheeting and then demolishing the structures after all asbestos had been removed. Bids for the demo costs were astronomical, ranging from $7.3 million to $11 million.
However, Earth Services & Abatement (ESA), Commerce City, Colo., proposed an alternate plan that, if successful, might save Amalgamated millions of dollars. Central to the problem was the mill building.
Says Rod Schafer, president of Schafer Environmental Consulting, the building was like a city within itself. “It housed its own powerplant, huge boilers and rusted machinery. The upper floors were collapsing. Engineers and the local fire department assessed the building and calculated what would be necessary to rebuild parts of the structure to make it sound enough to proceed with the asbestos abatement,” he says.
The standard method for abating the mill building would have been first to enclose it, abate the asbestos and then demolish the structure. However, safety concerns arose with abating the main mill building. Walls were collapsing, floors had dangerous penetrations and handrails were mangled and broken. In short, it was too unsafe to abate.
ESA sought a safer, more cost-effective way, so it teamed up with Schafer and CDPHE to devise a process that might cut costs by several million dollars. The project team had two main challenges: get the local landfill to approve a one-time asbestos permit to accept the waste so that trucks would not have to haul material three hours each way, and then convince CDPHE to approve a variance that allowed for demolition of the mill with the asbestos still inside. Working collaboratively with CDPHE, the team was able to do both.
The new strategy included traditional abatement and demolition of the smaller structures first, since they were safer to abate. Once complete, ESA proposed traditional abatement on some easy-to-access sections of the main mill, removing as much bulk-asbestos as was safely feasible.
ESA would then complete structural demolition of the mill, leaving the remaining asbestos in place. Once demolished, all trucks would be lined and wrapped so that materials could be hauled without airborne emissions. If successful, this would avoid the tremendous hazards of abatement in a structurally unsound building, as well as millions of dollars in labor and plastic used in a traditional abatement.
In August 2016, the plan was approved. The company was to provide at least one dedicated, certified asbestos abatement supervisor on site at all times during structurally unsound demolition and debris-removal activities. Full-time inspection and air-monitoring personnel were also required at all times.
“This was a collaborative effort that proceeded without the head-butting that can often occur in projects of this scale,” Schafer says. “ESA’s unique experience inside regulatory agencies was a huge benefit that allowed us to obtain the variance needed to save the owners millions of dollars now, and possibly many more millions in potential lawsuits down the line.”
Another unique aspect of variance is that the steel was decontaminated of asbestos and recycled. Equipment operators segregated the materials, cut metal into manageable sections and placed the materials in a metal cleaning area. Control measures such as windbreaks were installed to ensure that activities within the area were separated from demolition and waste-loading areas.
Crews carried out wet methods and hand-washing on a concrete pad using low-volume, high-pressure sprayers and a high-volume vacuum impervious liquid-barrier system. The system was supported with an ESA Vac-loader (2,670 cfm) set up to filter recovered water to five microns before disposal in the sanitary sewer system.
Metal was cleaned inside the cleaning area and the AMS/BI visually inspected the metal for any dust and debris before the metal being moved outside the work area. The clean metal could then be moved from the work area to the clean recycling area to be loaded on rail cars or trucks for recycling.