‘Save the Stacks’ scrambles, deadline nears

Asarco demolition resumes in less than two months

By Robert Gray – El Paso Inc. staff writer

The loose-knit community group working to save the gigantic stacks on the former Asarco site is unlikely to meet all of the benchmarks set by the Asarco trustee before its November deadline, organizers say.

And trustee Roberto Puga, who has complete discretion over the sale of the property, says he will stand by what he said nearly a year ago.

“I made that absolutely crystal clear last year,” he says.

Last November, Puga halted plans to demolish the iconic smokestacks, giving non-profit Save the Stacks one year to demonstrate it had the public support and financial strength necessary to preserve the stacks.

The group must also complete an engineering study showing the stacks are structurally sound, and find or create an organization that can take possession of the stacks, maintain them and accept liability for them, according to Puga.

“The Trust will promise,” Puga wrote last November, “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.”

So far, Save the Stacks has raised nearly enough money to fund a top-to-bottom visual inspection of the stack, says architect Geoffrey Wright, the organization’s president.

But that is just the first step. If the inspection is completed in time, a structural engineer would then have to evaluate the soundness of the stacks. The study would take a hard look at the condition of the stacks, propose how they might be preserved and estimate the cost of preserving them.

“A lot of us have been working very hard to promote this and try to make it happen,” Wright says, who is principal architect at Wright & Dalbin Architects in El Paso.

“Maybe we won’t make it, but we are trying,” Wright adds.

Save the Stacks has selected a firm to evaluate the structural integrity of the stacks and is now trying to raise the remainder of about $75,000 needed to fund the inspection and an evaluation by an engineer.

If the Nov. 4 deadline is not met, Puga says he will resume demolition, but the stacks wouldn’t come down until the first quarter of next year.

It’s a long, demanding process, Puga says. The trust has to coordinate with nearly 20 federal, state and local agencies. Also, the demolition contractor has to calculate exactly how the massive stacks are going to come down.

One of the stacks stands at 828 feet, just 235 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the other stands at 610, a bit taller than the Washington Monument.

“You don’t just tear down a structure of significance just because there is a deadline,” says Robert Ardovino, who helped found Save the Stacks.

The group has a “long, long” list of supporters, he says, but it has become clear that a year wasn’t a realistic timeframe.

“We are hoping (Puga) will see the support and reconsider the deadline,” Ardovino says.

Wright says he wishes that Save the Stacks had more resources to do a better job at public outreach. As of Friday, the group’s Facebook page had 175 likes.

It also recently launched a website, www.SaveTheStacks.org. On it, the group writes that the stacks serve as “iconic monuments to remind us all of our history” and imagine them as an observation tower, electronic sign post, amusement ride or the centerpiece of an El Paso history park, among other things.

“Once they’re gone,” Wright says, “they’re gone forever.”

Source: http://www.elpasoinc.com/news/local_news/article_23a2d896-ffdd-11e1-b9b0-001a4bcf6878.html