Asarco smokestacks will be demolished (Article Includes Local Poll Results)

By Chris Roberts – El Paso Times

The ASARCO plant from a 2006 aerial photo. (Rudy Gutierrez/Times file photo)

El Paso Times Survey

The deadline has passed for finding a way to save the Asarco smokestack that juts from El Paso’s heart, and there is no preservation plan in place.

However, that does not mean people passionate about keeping the stack as the nation’s tallest monument are letting the issue go.

Roberto Puga, the trustee in charge of cleaning up and selling the smelter site, said Wednesday that he does not foresee any circumstance under which he would halt demolition of the 826-foot stack and its smaller neighbor.

“I think that opportunity was given to Save the Stacks, and unfortunately they couldn’t come up with anything that is workable or viable,” Puga said Wednesday. “Any further delay will start to affect the schedule for remediation.”

Puga said he expects the demolition will be done in February or March.

Robert Ardovino, a member of Save the Stacks, sees things differently.

“We feel like we’ve done what he’s asked us to do, and we feel like he’s changed the rules in the middle of the game,” Ardovino said. “We feel like the city deserves a monument, and we feel like he has the capacity to give it to us.”

Ardovino and members of the preservation group have said they believe Puga’s contract — part of a court order resulting from the Asarco bankruptcy that also provided $52 million for remediation — gives the trustee latitude to give the chimney to the city at little or no cost.

Puga points to contract language stating that the trust must sell equipment, material or land “for at least fair market value.”

“It’s not a complicated contract,” he said. “It’s very clear.”

And Puga has said a “structural defect,” which the preservation group’s engineers agreed exists, makes the land underneath unmarketable without millions of dollars in repair.

Last week, the El Paso City Council rejected a resolution written by Save the Stacks that would have cleared the way for the city to take over the chimney. A second resolution proposed by city Rep. Susie Byrd that supports saving the stack if the city has no financial obligation passed after Mayor John Cook broke a tie vote.

“It seems like Puga is completely ignoring the city’s resolution,” Ardovino said.

Puga said that he has always been willing to work with the city, but that it will take at least $5.5 million (according to a Save the Stacks estimate, which was lower than the trust’s) to repair, insure and maintain the chimney over a 50-year period.

“I do think that he does have discretion under the trust agreement to transfer that asset,” Byrd said Wednesday. “He might need some guidance and feedback from the bankruptcy court.

“I think that if we all sat down, we could hammer out a solution,” she said, “and we could hammer out a solution that helps the marketability of that site.”

Byrd added, “There is a yearning within the community to remember our history, remember the workers and remake our future.”

Chris Roberts may be reached at; 546-6136.