2010 Year in review: Demolition of Asarco on tab for ’11

by Diana Washington Valdez – El Paso Times

The cleanup at the Asarco smelter site will begin next year with the planned demolition of the two smokestacks and other structures.

“As far as we know, most of the structures will be demolished,” said Lorinda Gardner, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in El Paso.

Gardner said the TCEQ will oversee the environmental and fiscal aspects of the cleanup in West El Paso. “We are also reviewing the invoices submitted by the Texas Custodial Trust to make sure things are in line,” Gardner said.

Asarco’s two landmark smokestacks are scheduled to be razed in late 2011. They stand 828 and 625 feet tall.

“They will be coming down towards the end of next year,” said Roberto Puga, a Project Navigator official overseeing the cleanup and sale of the site for the Texas Custodial Trust.

“We are beginning the demolition phase in the first quarter of 2011. We hope to be substantially completed with demolition in 2011,” he said.

The project staff will resume work on the site next month after the holidays. Six companies are in contention for the demolition contract.

“I think our interaction with the community has been the most interesting and challenging part of our job so far,” Puga said. “We are proud of the work we have done in informing the community and integrating community input.

“We have gotten input from many different stakeholders, including El Paso elected officials at the federal, state and local levels, community activist groups, federal and state environmental agencies and private citizens.”

Puga said the interactions included one-on-one meetings, public meetings, a blog, online postings seeking public comment and polls on Asarco by the El Paso Times.

He said about $1.5 million has been spent so far from the $52 million trust created for the cleanup, and he expects next year’s expenditures to reach $10 million or more.

The project’s other advances include:

  • Drafted management plans.
  • Marketed inventoried assets.
  • Surveyed all trust properties.
  • Removed copper matte and concentrate for recycling.

Asarco began as a lead smelter 123 years ago, and continued operating as a copper smelter before smelting operations were halted in 1999.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6140.