Save the Stacks gets 30 more days

Asarco trustee extends stack demolition deadline

By Robert Gray – El Paso Inc.

Before last Monday, the effort to preserve the massive smokestack on the former Asarco site appeared to be nearly over.

Members of the Save the Stacks group said they were unlikely to meet all of the benchmarks set by site trustee Roberto Puga before the Nov. 4 deadline, after which engineers would begin planning the demolition of the two remaining stacks.

And Puga, who has complete discretion over the sale and clean up of the property, said he would stand by what he said nearly a year ago: There would be no extension.

He would move forward with the demolition unless Save the Stacks could demonstrate it had the public support and financial strength necessary to maintain the stacks long term.

So what changed? “We acquiesced due to the mayor’s direct involvement,” Puga says.

El Paso Mayor John Cook and members of Save the Stacks met with Puga and his team of engineers, lawyers, appraisers and real estate consultants on Monday.

“I asked (Puga) to step out of the meeting and asked if he would consider giving (Save the Stacks) an additional 30 days, making that the drop dead date,” Mayor John Cook tells El Paso Inc.

He adds, “My mandate to him was don’t divert any of the money that you’ve got for remediation of the site in order to save the stacks, because that would be inappropriate.”

Now, Save the Stacks, a loose-knit community group, has until Dec. 4 to meet the benchmarks. That means Save the Stacks can finish a structural analysis and engineering study, founding member Robert Ardovino says.

$40,000 study

Members hope to prove preserving and stabilizing the tallest of the two remaining stacks won’t cost the $14 million Puga estimated it would. Rather, they hope to show it will cost less to preserve the stacks than to demolish them.

Ardovino says they have hired smokestack expert John Susong, CEO of Industrial Access, to perform a visual inspection of the stack, known technically as a chimney.

A structural engineer will review the report and determine if the stack is structurally sound and figure how much it could cost to stabilize and maintain it.

The study will cost about $40,000, but Ardovino says they have raised the money.

“That assessment will tell us if the campaign is over or if it’s just the beginning,” he says.

The group must also find or create an organization that can take possession of the stacks, maintain them and accept liability for them. Members hope the city might take on that responsibility.

But, Cook says, before City Council can even consider doing that, Save the Stacks needs to finish the study that will determine how much it will cost to maintain the stacks.

“For me, I have never really cared one way or another. My whole goal was to make sure no more smoke poured out of them. So my goal was achieved when Asarco no longer had a permit to operate there,” Cook says.

Puga says his primary mission is to clean the site, mitigating the threat to human health and the environment, and the stack issue can’t be allowed to delay the project.

The original Nov. 4 deadline was not set arbitrarily. Puga says that’s how long he had before the stack issue made things grind to a halt. Over the past year, the trust has demolished most everything else on the former Asarco site, saving the stacks for last.

If Save the Stacks doesn’t meet its new deadline and demolition resumes, Puga says his crew will work overtime and through the holidays to stay on schedule.

“We made it very clear that this is a one-time extension,” Puga says.

The stacks wouldn’t come down until the first quarter of next year because planning the demolition of the stacks is a long, demanding process.

One of the stacks stands at 828 feet and the other stands at 610, a bit taller than the Washington Monument.

“It has been a whole year and (Save the Stacks) has not made a lot of progress,” Puga says, “I am not sure what 30 days really buys them.”

More details about the remediation and demolition are online at

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.