Email Regarding the Stacks Demolition Delay (Trustee Rationale for One-Year Stack Demolition Delay)

The following is an email from Lisa McNeil to the Site Trustee. The Trustee’s response is bolded.

Hello Mr. Puga:

I was very dismayed by your decision to grant an extension for demolishing the stacks and hope that you will reconsider. I have a conflict tomorrow evening and will not be able to attend the meeting.

One reason why you have not received many emails by the “stacksdown” people is because we did not even know about this new development until we read about it in Sunday’s paper. I check your website frequently, and even now it still says that the stacks are on schedule for demolition in February of 2012. We did not have a chance to orchestrate our own email blast and orchestrated it was. Sunday’s article was also misleading since the reference to public funds and indemnity did not occur unitl the end of a rather lengthy article. Although many of the “prostacks” people are my neighbors and associates, I was distressed to see these private interest groups willing to sacrifice public safety for their cause. Turning the fate of this project that could have long-term financial and public safety repercussions for our community over to a group that does not even have a business plan and is willing to cut costs on the assumption that “that will never happen here” sounds a lot like BP and Hurricane Katrina reasoning. El Pasoans did not think that they needed flood insurance either until Storm 2006. Taxpayers are still paying for that one.

Please reconsider your extension. Our community is not financially wealthy as a whole. Only a relatively small segment of our community has a lot of disposable income, and we cannot afford to pay for the private sector’s possible failure; it is a risky venture. El Paso is not too big to fail. No one will bail us out when your trust is gone. It will not be a matter of city officials wanting to spend funds; they will have to spend funds to ensure our safety. I find this whole process highly unethical and dangerous to the public welfare–a public opinion poll should not decide a project that still threatens public safety. I know that you care for our community’s safety since you stressed the danger and your commitment to our welfare in the article.

I have attached a copy of an article that I submitted to the paper which will probably not get published. Still, it does further outline my concerns. (Although I was a bit angry when I wrote it.)

Thank you for your service to our community. Although I understand and sympathize with the prostacks position of my neighbors, I support your original plan because I believe that your initial plan has the best interests of our community in mind while still recognizing the cultural significance of ASARCO.

Sincerely,

Lisa McNiel
Assistant Professor of Speech
El Paso Community College

Roberto Puga’s response:

Dear Professor McNiel,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. Let me say that this issue is probably the most difficult public interface challenge I have yet to face on this project, and I am saddened that our decision has disappointed so many people, including some that have been the Trust’s biggest supporters.

The rationale for the decision is as follows. From the beginning the Trust has operated by being open and transparent with the public. Everything that we do, the analyses we run, public input we receive are available to all via our website. I have hosted public meetings and have attended meetings coordinated by your elected officials. I regularly brief the leaders of El Paso on the local, state and federal level. I have allowed interested people access to the site and have incorporated public input into our investigations. I have given the media complete access to me and the project.

The stack issue has been contentious from the beginning. Last year we worked hard to evaluate the stack and provide a cost estimate to keep it up. The resounding consensus from the community was that the stack could not be saved using public funds. However, at the site reuse meetings hosted by the City in the summer of 2010, some people asked for the opportunity to see if a private effort could save the stack. I said at that time that I would wait one year to see if such an effort materialized. As it turned out, I did not hear anything until two weeks ago – long after the year waiting period had run out. I was approached by two gentlemen from the community – Gary Sapp and Robert Ardovino. They wanted a chance to see if private funding could be found to save the stacks. They were able to get about 50 people to voice their support for the delay. Two elected officials, State Senator Rodriguez and Councilwoman Byrd, also wrote to express support for the delay.

I was posed by an ethical dilemma: either I could say that the year was up and ignore the request, or I could follow the intent of our offer to the community and allow them the time to explore the private option. I choose to follow the intent.

It should be understood that the bar for the folks wanting to save the stacks is very high. Here are the conditions imposed on the one year waiting period:

  1. There needs to be a legal entity established to take possession of the stacks.
  2. The legal entity must demonstrate the financial strength to undertake ownership of the stacks. (It is estimated to cost approximately $14 million over the long term to preserve and stabilize the tallest stack on the Asarco site; there has been no evaluation of the costs to preserve the shorter stack).
  3. The legal entity must have the ability to indemnify the Trust and the Trust beneficiaries.
  4. The entity must demonstrate that both stacks have the structural integrity necessary to remain on the site. This demonstration must be performed by a professional structural engineer that is licensed to practice in Texas, and the engineer’s report must be stamped.

These are challenging conditions, especially the technical report, which I believe will increase the cost estimate.

No decision has been made to keep the stacks; all we are doing is allowing for the public debate and feasibility evaluation to occur. I will promise you that 12 months from now, if these conditions are not met to our satisfaction, the stacks will come down and no further delay will be tolerated.

One more point, which I think is very important: the site remediation work, which is the primary purpose of the Trust, will continue unimpeded by the delay.

Sincerely Yours,
Roberto Puga

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