Six months left to save the stacks

By Robert Gray \ El Paso Inc.

The loose-knit community group seeking to save the towering stacks on the former Asarco site is quickly running out of time.

Last November, Asarco trustee Roberto Puga paused plans to demolish the iconic smokestacks, giving Save the Stacks one year to show it had the public support and finances to preserve the stacks, one at 828 feet and the other 610 feet.

But the group is already six months in and has only six months left before Puga moves forward with the demolition of the stacks and has yet to complete the first step, funding a $100,000 engineering study.

“We were very naive in the beginning to think that a year was even a realistic timeframe. We didn’t realize the forces we were up against, and they are pretty big,” said Robert Ardovino, owner of Ardovino’s Desert Crossing, who started the movement with Gary Sapp of Hunt Communities.

The study will take a hard look at the condition of the stacks, propose how they might be preserved and estimate the cost of preserving them.

The answer to that last question could determine if the stacks continue to stand.

Initial estimates placed the cost of preserving the stacks at $14 million, but Sapp maintains that is grossly overstated. He also admits there is no way the group can raise $14 million in six months.

Instead, Sapp says he hopes the more detailed engineering analysis will show that the stacks can be left up for less than it will cost the trust to demolish the stacks, or about $1 million.

“That’s the next step for the preservation and Mr. Puga has an engineering proposal and a couple inspection proposals on his desk,” Sapp said.

If Puga approves one of the proposals, Sapp said it should be “pretty easy” to raise the $100,000 needed to fund the study.

“We have had contact from a number of El Pasoans who have said, ‘When you’re ready, let us know so we can help,’ ” Sapp says.

Ardovino says they are also trying to better engage the public. But as of Friday morning, the Save the Stacks Facebook page had only 16 “likes.”

Another proposal supported by Puga, but not Save the Stacks, would leave intact only the base of the largest stack as a sort of memorial, covered in murals that tell the history of Asarco in El Paso.

“I would like to go ahead and propose that to the public and invite the Save the Stacks folks to partake in that activity,” Puga says, “which would allow me to get back on schedule with the demolition.”