|A worker uses a torch to cut one of the legs of the 300-foot-tall radio tower off Forest Beach in South Chatham yesterday to prepare for toppling. Steve Heaslip photo.|
By ROBIN LORD
SOUTH CHATHAM - A 300-foot icon to mid-20th century technology came crashing down in a South Chatham marsh late yesterday afternoon. For 52 years the former RCA radio transmission tower was a landmark for some, an eyesore to others.
Shortly before 6 p.m., the tower, used for decades for ship-to-shore communication, was pulled, twisting and groaning, from its four concrete pilings by a wire attached to a large excavator in a nearby parking lot. As dusk fell over the marsh, the red-and-white steel structure fell onto a giant plastic tarp, its "neck" landing on wall of plastic barrels set up to absorb the force. The impact sent sand and saltwater spewing about 20 feet into the air.
Cameras flashed, cheers erupted, champagne corks popped.
Residents who lived in the shadow of the tower had endured disruptions to radio and television service when the tower was operational, and had worried about health effects. "It's wonderful to see it the way it used to be," said Olive Cahoon as she watched the action on the bank overlooking the marsh. She grew up in the Forest Beach neighborhood and said her father was assured by RCA that when they were through with the tower, it would come down. "No matter how you slice it, it was an eyesore," said Chatham Selectman Douglas Ann Bohman, who stood for several hours yesterday afternoon waiting for workmen from ENSR Company of Acton to prepare the tower for takedown. When the giant structure toppled, she slapped high fives with Charles Cahoon, who was instrumental in persuading MCI WorldCom, the last owner of the property, to take the tower and 97 utility poles down. The corporation asked for $800,000 from the town for its 92 acres in South Chatham and Chathamport, a fraction of the $5 million appraisal. Special town meeting voters earlier this month approved the purchase, and added $150,000 for insurance, closing costs and short-term maintenance of the land.
Bohman said yesterday the removal of the tower and poles cost MCI WorldCom about $500,000. On a house deck on Forest Beach Road across from the action, Richard and Mary Noone watched the preparation. Richard Noone's late aunt, Edna Ramseyer, vocally opposed construction of the tower in 1947. "She wasn't alone. There were many others. They lost (the argument) on the basis that this was the most logical place to put it, and it would save many lives," Noone said. Mary Noone said Ramseyer would feel vindicated by yesterday's takedown. "When we go to the cemetery on Memorial Day, I'm going to tell her and I'm sure she'll be pleased." But Noone said he grew accustomed to the imposing structure over the years, and, after FM radio and cable television came in, the interference from the tower was not as bad.
Others said they had actually grown fond of the tower.
"It's part of the neighborhood," said Hill Gage, whose house sits on the edge of the marsh. "And it was the world's greatest landmark when you were out sailing." ENSR engineers yesterday called the takedown a success. After hours of measuring, setting up the barrels, cutting through the four metal legs with torches and setting up equipment, the tower toppled just where they wanted it. "We were 11/2 degrees off center line," said ENSR engineer Brian Murphy of Piscataway, New Jersey. "It doesn't get much better than that."
Taking no chances, the Chatham police blocked off the road a short distance from the beach. Flying metal was of greatest concern, said Officer William Jaques. The tower will be now be cut into pieces for removal by helicopter next week.