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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 210-foot-tall Lihue Sugar Mill Smokestack, A Kauai Landmark, Demolished

Monument to Kauai sugar industry hauled down

The smokestack at the defunct Lihue mill was a symbol of a plantation era past

The 210-foot-tall Lihue Sugar Mill smokestack, which stood for more than 50 years, toppled to the ground in less than five seconds as the Kauai landmark was demolished Tuesday.
 1/16/13:  Lyle Tabata stood with co-workers Tuesday afternoon outside the Lihue Civic Center, about a quarter-mile from the former Lihue Sugar Mill on Kauai, and watched as contractors tore down the mill's historic smokestack, a symbol of Hawaii's bygone sugar plantation era.

At 2:45 p.m. the 210-foot-tall smokestack fell to the ground in less than five seconds. It was surreal, Tabata said.

"It was a landmark in this town for many years, and now it's gone," he said.

Tabata, 56, worked at the mill for more than 20 years and was the last manager at the Lihue and Kekaha sugar mills before they closed in November 2000. Co-workers surrounded Tabata, deputy county engineer of the Department of Public Works, to watch his reaction when the smokestack went down because they knew how significant the mill was to him.

While onlookers cheered, Tabata said the impact was "like the final nails driving into the coffin." He noted that he acts rough and tough but that the demolition of the historic symbol tore at him. "A piece of my heart went with it," said Tabata.

Workers for NCM Contracting Group took down the smokestack by cutting through its base and using cables and an excavator to haul down supporting pieces. The work is part of a demolition project that began at the mill in January 2012 with asbestos removal. Since the shuttering of the Lihue and Kekaha sugar mills, the structures have significantly deteriorated, raising safety concerns.

Police closed Haleko Road between Na­wili­wili Road and Rice Street on Tuesday for about an hour starting at 2:30 p.m. to prepare for the demolition of the big chimney.

It was a chicken-skin moment, said Tabata. Memories of his years at the mill flashed through his mind when the smokestack fell, sending a billowing cloud of red dirt into the sky. "It puts life into perspective," he said. "Nothing stays the same."

The smokestack was the mill's second one, built in the early 1950s when a new boiler set and other modifications were added to the facility, Tabata said.

The mill was built in 1849 in the valley of Na­wili­wili Stream, whose water was used to power mill rollers brought from China, according to the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Plantation archives. Its first crop produced 108 tons of sugar and about 26,000 gallons of molasses.

More than 80 years later, the Lihue mill merged with Makee mill after the Lihue Plantation Co. acquired the Makee Sugar Co. After World War II, productivity surged with the return of veterans, leading to a record harvest of nearly 60,000 tons of sugar in 1947, according to the archives.

Lynn McCrory, president of PAHIO Development Inc, a company that bought the Lihue and Kekaha sugar mills in 2007, said the demolition is expected to be completed in mid-February.

While many viewed the demolition as an end of an era, McCrory sees it as a new beginning. "Someday it will be an economically viable piece of land," she said.

There is no planned development of the site at this time. McCrory said field tests of pesticides and insecticides will be done after demolition is completed.

Demolition work at Kekaha Sugar Mill is scheduled to begin in March and take nine to 12 months to complete.
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