Smaller Asarco Stack May Stay Standing

Chris Roberts – El Paso Times

Most of the buildings, smokestacks and smelting equipment at the Asarco site will be demolished or sold — but not all.

At least two structures, and possibly one of the smaller smokestacks, are being eyed for preservation, said Bernie Sargent, El Paso County Historical Commission chairman.

“That whole place is a trip through history,” Sargent said Friday. “It’s a part of the fabric of El Paso.”

The Asarco administration building and the “Power House,” where boilers fed steam to generators that powered much of the equipment at the plant, will be left standing, said Roberto Puga, the Project Navigator trustee in charge of the cleanup. Although the two largest smokestacks will be felled like trees, another smaller stack might be preserved, Sargent said.

When it was determined that saving the 826-foot stack with the Asarco lettering would cost $14 million, public support evaporated. It is possible one of the small stacks could be preserved for significantly less money, Sargent said.

The cost of stabilizing and preserving those structures — yet to be determined — is not included in the $52 million set aside for the demolition and cleanup, Sargent said. Fundraising already has begun, he said.

Some people are reluctant to sign on because of the environmental and health legacy of the plant and possible repercussions from those who opposed Asarco when the company was trying to restart the smelter a few years ago, he said.

In the plant’s more than a century of operation, it was responsible for spewing pollution that contained lead, arsenic and cadmium. Some former employees now suffer health effects they believe were caused by daily exposure to that pollution.

But the plant also provided good jobs and training for thousands of people over the years, say other former employees. Monica Perales, who was raised in El Paso, takes the long view. She wrote a book about Smeltertown, where many Asarco employees lived, and now is a University of Houston history professor.
“Good, bad or indifferent, however you feel about Asarco,” Perales said, “it was such an important part of the city’s history.”

Chris Roberts may be reached at; 546-6136.