Where there are smokestacks, there is bound to be fire - unless the chimneys are obsolete. Then the only heat they generate is from controversy between those who think they should be leveled and those wanting them around as historic landmarks.
Such is the case in Murray, where debate is warming up over the old American Smelting and Refining Co. stacks that tower over the Salt Lake Valley. With due respect to historical preservation, developers of the 141-acre smelter site are on solid ground in insisting they come down.In fact, solid ground - and that not so stable in the event of an earthquake - is a key reason the old contaminated stacks should be put out of their misery. The older 300-foot south smokestack is not well-built, has deteriorated significantly and may not withstand a major seismic event. Imagine the damage created by one or two toppling brick towers.
The dominant 455-foot north stack does have some functionality, as it is topped with police communications antennae. But those undoubtedly could be relocated to another lofty perch somewhere in the valley. Environmental tests found arsenic and lead contamination in brick and soils inside and adjacent to the chimneys. Restoration would likely expose workers to unacceptable levels of contamination.
Saving and preserving old, decaying smokestacks is not on par with preserving many historic structures. Preliminary bids indicate demolition would be less expensive than making them seismically safe. This is an instance where concerns for public health and safety should take precedence over sentimental and historical considerations.
Proponents of salvaging the towers and turning them into retrofitted structures that would enhance the project have sentiment on their side. But Murray would maintain a strong sense of community, based around its downtown area, with or without the chimneys. A developer's suggestion that a commemorative stack 300-400 feet high be constructed in lieu of the two old ones is a reasonable compromise that would preserve the historic flavor of the smelter site.
That is an idea that should be seriously pursued as Murray residents and others prepare to bid adieu to two longtime but now dangerous old friends.