The Life Cycle of a Pulp and Paper Mill
Jul 1
If you've ever driven down Old Salem Road in Albany, you may have driven under a large metal tube passing over the road (Pic 1). It was used by the IP (International Paper) pulp and paper mill (the stinky Albany plant) to transport steam and electricity from one side of the road to the other. Was used. As of June 24th, it's gone. As is most of the rest of the mill that used to stand on Old Salem Road. It's smells better (have you noticed)? But it's a bit sad to see the emptiness.

There are many economic reasons the mill closed down - the decreasing desire for paper, for instance. Perhaps in another economy, another time, the mill would still be standing there, falling apart and growing weeds. But in the economy of the last many years, scrap prices were generally high. China was growing, especially in manufacturing, and needed much of our industrial detritus. Scrap metal, plastic, paper all went to China to be turned into new goods. Likewise, companies starting up in the States or opening a new location were happy to find a used steam generator or conveyor belt when the cost of used was a fraction of new. Instead of people working at the factory to make paper, scrap contractors worked at the mill to disassemble, implode, collapse, and ship out the pieces to other states. A pulp and paper mill generally sits on a rail line to facilitate moving raw materials and finished product. That same rail line was used to move the scrap around the country, or to ports for shipment overseas.

I started going to the Albany mill in the spring of '12, and the demo had already been going on a while. Now it's the summer of '15 and place is almost empty. I went down this time to watch the metal tube get moved away from the road for disassembly and sale. A crew of guys was craned up to each side of the tube to cut the support bolts loose. Metal cables were attached, and then the crane operator got to do his stuff. He picked up and rotated this huge tube so slowly it was hard to tell if it was actually moving. But it was - just like a gigantic game of Operation. He needed to be careful because the tube sat right under overhead power lines, and you don't want to hit those with a big piece of metal. (Sure, the power was off and the road was closed, but you still don't want to hit the lines.) The crane operator made it look easy (Pic 2 shows the tube now sitting parallel to the road). Then the crew turned to focus on a huge concrete stack (Pic 3). After cutting a wedge out of it, similar to loggers with a tree, they toppled the stack. Cool stuff. Big cloud of dust.

There are many things I have loved to see at the site. I love the explosions and implosions, the cranes and the piles of rubble (Pic 4). Combing through the rubble for treasure is my kind of project. I love that there are always industrial size nuts and bolts lying amongst the gravel. The explosions would torque a piece of metal into crazy shapes, making it more challenging for me to incorporate a beautiful piece into one of my projects. Plus, there's a similarity between a messy closet or basement and a demo site. (You know I love to clean a closet.) The demo contractors basically get to explode their "closet", and then clean it all up. Nice. Who hasn't wanted to do that once in a while? And, now I wonder if we can actually dispose of everything without using a dumpster? Can we find a place for everything - a non-landfill place?

Mainly, tho, I loved the intricacy and beauty of the buildings and the equipment (PIc 5). If there were some way to turn a paper mill into condos, I would probably buy one as long as it had plenty of original metal in it. I would want to live in the metal tube over the street. Add a few windows and it would be perfect. And maybe some plumbing.

So how are the last stages of demo and sales going? In one of the few remaining buildings there sits a large steam generator. It was for sale, used, for about 1.5mm. Another mill was on the line to buy it, but the deal didn't happen. So the demo contractor will be selling the generator for scrap. The race track in Albany was considering buying the tube over the road and turning it into an over-the-road walkway for people at the race track. Cool idea, right? But the track was apparently looking for a free or nearly free price for the tube. Scrap's a business for demo contractors, scrappers, and junk yards around the country. China is not importing as much these days, and margins are tight. There is not much being given away. And why should cool stuff be free? To save a piece of local history - the metal tube over the road - and to turn it into a nifty feature at your race track - well, that's a labor of love. You do it for the history, to be unique, to stand apart. And you don't get that for free.

You get what you pay for 99% of the time. And folks, I swear, using scrap in a fantastic way is worth every penny. Try it - you'll see.
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