New ABC-7 Poll Shows Public Wants To See ASARCO Stack Go

ABC7 –

EL PASO, Texas — For decades, the iconic 826-foot tall orange and white ASARCO smokestack has been a part of El Paso’s landscape, seen from miles around.

Nine months remain until an ultimate decision will be made on whether the smokestack is brought down or remains.

The debate over the smokestack seems to cast a shadow on its future as far as it does across Interstate 10 these days.

In a recent KVIA ABC-7 independent poll, 58 percent of more than 300 people questioned replied that they would like to see the ASARCO smokestack come down.

Of those who did say they’d like to see the stack remain, 33 percent, a majority, said they would not be in favor of the use of tax payer dollars to save the smokestack.

A board of trustees, the Texas Custodial Trust, is in charge of allocating $52 million in the cleanup effort of the old ASARCO site. That money comes from a larger settlement, worth $1.3 billion, with the Department of Justice that created three additional trusts in other states. Construction workers are in the process of filling waste depository sites on the old ASARCO property that are scheduled to be closed in November.

According to Roberto Puga, the administrator of site cleanup, the November deadline to decide the fate of the smokestack is meant to allow the rubble from a potential demolition to be buried before those waste depository sites are closed off.

“We’ll make a hard decision by November one way or another,” said Puga.

Puga added that the Trust doesn’t have a stance either way whether the stacks will stay or go, but reiterated that the date for demolition will not be delayed again unless a permanent plan to keep the stacks is viable by that date.

Robert Ardovino, who is rallying those interested in saving the smokestack, said the timetable is disheartening. He believes that it isn’t enough time to meet all of the Texas Custodial Trust’s criteria:

  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. Ardovino says despite the lengthy criteria, and hard up-hill battle, he won’t be giving up. For him, this latest poll doesn’t speak to what he believes to be true.

“To me a poll is a poll,” Ardovino said. “I talk to people everyday and they’re telling me to keep up the fight.”

Ardovino, who went to school nearby the ASARCO stack, said the smokestacks did negative things for a long period of time in El Paso. He questions why the people of El Paso can’t rally to make them earn their keep and do something positive.

It’s Ardovino’s belief that the $14 million the Trust claims it would take to save the site is an inflated figure, but said the research hasn’t been done to show how much a monument preserving the legacy of the stack could bring back to the city.

“No one is ever going to have that kind of money to build them for something as benign as an observation tower,” said Ardovino. “They’re here and they don’t need to be destroyed. It just doesn’t make sense.”