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The Morro Bay smokestacks are coming down. Here's how that could impact the city

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Angel Russell
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The three smokestacks have served as an iconic symbol of Morro Bay for years.

The iconic skyline in Morro Bay will look different in six years after the city council voted to have the old power plant smokestacks torn down.

The skyline along the town's waterfront is taken up by two giant sights— Morro Rock and the three smokestacks from the old power plant, which closed permanently in 2014.

But now, after a 4-1 deciding vote by the city council, the three smokestacks are set to come down by January 1, 2028.

“We have two icons facing each other— for almost eternity it seems," said Mike Jones, owner of Azhiaziam Surf Shop. "Now — talking about getting rid of them — it’s a weird thing.”

Jones also grew up in Morro Bay, so he’s heard the debate for years— are the stacks a beauty or a blight?

For Jones, now that the decision has been made to remove the stacks, he says he is more concerned about what that process will mean for his business.

“It’s a little nerve-racking, you know? You’re signing leases for years on end and not knowing what the future is going to bring," Jones said. "It’s kind of a Catch-22 having a business right next to them.”

Morro Bay city manager Scott Collins said the process of demolition still needs to be laid out by Vistra Corporation, the company that purchased the old power plant.

“The only impacts I would foresee are hopefully positive in that you would have a lot of folks working on that site to conduct the removal," Collins said. "There would be more traffic, but [mitigation] would be part of the environmental review.”

Collins said it will likely be a lengthy process of demolishing the smokestacks. He said it will probably look similar to what Carlsbad, California is currently doing to remove their 400-foot-tall smokestack.

“They don’t implode with these kinds of facilities because of asbestos concerns," Collins said. "So [crews] literally start from the top and just chip away at it to mitigate the impact on the environment.”

Vistra corporation is proposing turning part of the smokestack site into a 22-acre, 600-megawatt battery energy storage system. But Collins said a decision about what may replace the stacks is still up in the air. He said the city plans to work with Vistra Corporation and continue talks with the community about ideas for redevelopment.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.