Asarco: Site trustee doing good job

El Paso Times Editorial Board

Roberto Puga says it succinctly, and we agree. “I have to clean the (Asarco) site. Nothing can get in the way of that.”

Puga is the trustee in charge of dismantling the 100-year-old former Asarco lead and copper smelter and selling the approximately 450 acres of land. To accomplish that, he has $52 million from the Asarco bankruptcy settlement and he can also use money from any materials or equipment he can sell. Some, including former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, felt $200 million was really needed to do a thorough clean-up job.

Clearing and remediation of this land is important to El Paso’s future. It’s prime for development, thus a proverbial gold mine for our tax base.

The main smelter site is located near renovation projects ongoing in Downtown and would be an ideal site for new business enterprises on those 120 acres.

There are also some 240 acres of Asarco land across Interstate 10 in a niche between the University of Texas at El Paso and Executive Center Drive.

There has been an attempt to save the two Asarco smokestacks as memorials. One is 826 feet tall — quite a memorial. Puga gave the Save the Stacks group a year to come up with a way to fund smokestack preservation. That year ended Dec. 4.

Also, Puga has said there are some potential buyers of the land who would have no further interest if the stacks remained.

And now there are some people upset that the century-old Asarco Power House will also get the wrecking ball. Puga said saving it would mean a $3 million repair job. That money is not in sight, and that much of the bankruptcy money should not go to saving an old building that might have no place when a developer takes over the property.

Puga is doing a good job of dismantling this plant that was a major polluter since the late 1800s. For more than a century, it provided good-paying jobs. But El Paso grew and the smelter became more and more of a health issue. It was a belcher of toxic smoke in what is now a large population area.

While there are good intentions to save some of Asarco, it’s more important to have a cleared site that will eventually bring more business to El Paso, and add more jobs.

We look forward to Puga completing the massive job of clearing Asarco off El Paso’s soil.