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AK Steel razing makes way for redevelopment

Aug. 19, 2013 @ 12:15 AM

ASHLAND -- Several structures at the closed AK Steel coke plant on Winchester Avenue were razed Sunday morning in a controlled demolition using explosives.

The implosion at 9:17 a.m., which drew several curious onlookers, was the latest step in an effort to tear down the plant and get the site ready for redevelopment.

About 100 people lost their jobs when the coke plant closed in 2011. The plant was no longer competitive because of increased maintenance costs and stringent environmental regulations, according to AK Steel spokesman Mike Wallner.

"We continue to move forward with our efforts to demolish the former coke plant in a safe and responsible manner so that the property may be redeveloped and used for another job-creating purpose in the Ashland community," Wallner said Sunday. He declined to say whether the demolition process was complete.

Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles told The Herald-Dispatch last week that he plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the near future to see if the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection would oversee the cleanup in hopes of making the site available for redevelopment in about a year.

Dozens of former AK Steel employees and community members gathered at different locations around the old coke plant to watch the implosion.

Former coworkers Todd Howard of Huntington and Steve Bevis of Russell, Ky., watched the demolition from the parking lot of Tri-State Pawn and Jewelry on Winchester Avenue.

"I just wanted to be here for the end and see a few people I haven't had a chance to talk to in a few years," said Howard, who worked at the coke plant from 2003 to 2011. "I have a lot of good memories there. We were like one big family. Everyone looked out for one another."

Bevis, who worked at the coke plant for seven years and took another job a few months before it shut down, echoed Howard's sentiments. Bevis told the story of another coworker at the coke plant whose father also worked there.

"He's 60 years old now, and he told me once that every meal he had ever eaten was provided by the coke plant," Bevis said. "That always stuck with me.

"Seeing it come down brings an end to a chapter in my life. I drive past it every day on my way to my job now, and I always think of the good times I had with people there. It was a great place to work."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.