Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

The fine gray dust floating through the air above Interstate 84 at the abandoned cement plant at Lime is being produced by expert operators who guide giant excavating machines to pound, smash, and crumble the concrete structures that rise above the landscape.

A four-man crew with Northwest Demolition & Dismantling, which has its headquarters in Tigard, arrived on the site about two weeks ago to begin cleanup. They expect to have the project completed by the first of June.

“This is a pretty small job for Northwest,” said Joel Smith, project coordinator. “It will take six to eight weeks for the whole project. We usually spend six to eight months on a project.”

Once the structures at the site are knocked down, the concrete will be processed, metals will be separated and recycled as much as possible, and what remains will be returned to Baker County for further cleanup and development, Smith said.

Smith, 27, whose family members are part owners of the business, lives at Tualatin.

The rest of the crew includes Martey Olsen, 57, of Chehalis, Washington, the project superintendent; Chad Baldwin, 44, of Kellogg, Idaho, equipment operator; and James Hammonds, 20, of Bandon, who joined the company a week ago as a laborer. Baldwin, who said he’s worked in the industry most of his life, also is a recent addition to the company.

Smith has been with the company, which he grew up being a part of, officially for nine years. Olsen’s 35-year career as an operating engineer includes five years with this company.

The four don’t always work together. For example, Smith and Olsen will head to Maui after this job is finished and Baldwin and Hammonds will travel to Nebraska. Their work has taken them to a wide variety of locations, including Peru, Midway Atoll, Seattle, New Mexico and Kona, Hawaii.

Olsen and Smith both said they had driven by the Lime site many times on their way to other jobs over the years.

“I thought ‘I hope we don’t get to go to that one,’ ” Olsen said and then one day he got the call asking, “Can you go to Lime?”

The men commute from Baker City daily to work six 10-hour days to complete the demolition of the former cement plant that got its start in 1923 and closed in 1980. A post office was established at Lime in 1899 and closed in 1964.

The Baker County Board of Commissioners agreed last month to hire the Tigard firm after Ash Grove officials said they would contribute to the cleanup only if the county worked with Northwest Demolition & Dismantling to complete the project.

Ash Grove is one of the firm’s largest clients in the continental United States and British Columbia, Smith said.

The agreement calls for Ash Grove to pay $315,000 of the $520,000 cost and for the county to pay the remaining $205,000.

The county commissioners agreed to the plan, after approving findings that would allow them to move forward, rather than seeking bids for the work because without Ash Grove’s financial help the county would not have been able to fund the cleanup needed to sell the property. The county took possession of the site in 1999 for back taxes owed by the previous owner.

See more in the April 27, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.