Message from Peggy McNiel to Senator Rodriguez

Senator Rodriguez,

I was astounded and dismayed that you are supporting taxpayer funds being allocated to preserve the Asarco smokestacks.

This idea has already been presented to our city council and voted down.
Taxpayers in the city of El Paso do not support funding the preservation of the Asarco smokestacks. Please do not take this outside the purview of the taxpaying voters who will have to pay for this if you succeed.

What is surprising is that you are not fighting for additional funds to further clean-up the site–including demolition of the stacks–to make it more conducive to all types of development not just commercial—a worthy endeavor for an environmentally conscious individual.

Some facts you may not be aware of:

1)Remediation of the site has always included demolition of the smokestacks because of their danger to the public. To quote from the TCEQ’s engineer who authored the remediation plan. “The lack of routine maintenance will accelerate deterioration of the buildings and structures. The deterioration of the structures will pose a hazard to any unauthorized persons and, as is the case with the smokestacks and the bridge over I-10, will pose a direct hazard to the public.”

This was written in 2009. It is 4 years later. Do you really want to champion funding of a “direct hazard to the public”.?

2) The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club regards the smokestacks as “toxic waste” in their public comments to the Assistant Attorney General, Environmental and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C.

Their public comments were written by one of their PHDs.

3) The Asarco stacks in both Tacoma, Wash. and Omaha, Nebraska were both demolished as part of their remediation plans for their sites. I talked to the on site manager for Citizens for a healthy bay, Ms. Leslie Rose, in Tacoma, Wash. regarding their stack demolition. She practically jumped out of the phone to say, “Controlled demolition is safer than leaving the stacks up and not properly maintaining them.” She asks why would you want to leave the stacks as a liability for future generations. The Tacoma stacks were demolished according to their EPA directed remediation plan. She went on to say that if the stacks remain, someone is always responsible for costly maintenance. An uncontrolled, unplanned failure of the stacks could be catastrophic and end up killing people. Maybe, not now, but at some point, the stacks will have to be demolished.

The Asarco trustee has hired independent experts who put the cost to stabilize the 826 ft stack at $6 million up front and $100,000 to $150,000 per year ad infinitum. Later Mr. Puga said further up front wind stabilization would be required at an additional cost of at least $4 million. This is to adequately preserve the stacks.

The Save the Stacks group immediately rejected these costs of safety even before they had conducted a study. At the City Council meeting, their firm estimated the costs at $4 million over 50 years compared to the trustee’s study that the cost would be $14 million plus the wind retrofitting of $4 million plus over 50 years. Puga has rejected their proposal as not adequate. Puga is the man I trust backed by the TCEQ and the EPA not some locals without the proper training and experience to judge which study is valid. The Save the Stacks hired firm admitted in the council meeting that they did not consider the threat of wind to toppling the stacks. Yet the Save the Stacks group continues to say it will only require $4 million.

4) Ms. Rose of Tacoma also offered that if the stacks had remained, no one would buy the property for development. This is the same objection reported by Puga in his initial attempt to find interested buyers.

El Paso needs taxpaying entities. We don’t need a blighted site.

5) There is nothing remarkable about these stacks other than the extent of their pollution and cost of preservation. There are 31 taller stacks in the U.S. The tallest one is 1217 ft. in Homer, Pa. Of the 31, 21 stacks are
1000 ft. or taller. The Asarco stacks were not designed by Trost. They were built in 1966 in a standard manufacturing process.

6) In a poll conducted by an independent research firm for the El Paso, Times, 80% of the polled were against stack preservation if the taxpayer would be required to fund it. The Save the Stacks group keeps referring to a poll where 70% are for stack preservation. They have never referenced the research firm who conducted the poll, the sample size and the reliability factor.

7) Mr. Puga has given the public 2 years and extended deadlines twice to provide any group every opportunity to come up with the funding to safely preserve the stacks. The current group has not been able to come up with their own funding. So they embarked upon a scheme to offload the liability and cost to adequately and safely preserve the stacks onto the taxpayer.
This was voted down in the El Paso City Council by a majority. Now this group is going to you Senator to extract funds from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. for preservation of polluted stacks. At a time when our state parks are underfunded, why would anyone wish to cut additional funds from our mountains, beaches and parks to fund these polluted stacks? Help me.

I urge you to allow the original remediation plan to go forward and support the trustee, Mr. Puga, the TCEQ and the EPA to clean up the polluted site and demolish the polluted, dangerous smokestacks in the interests of the environment and the health and safety of the citizenry.

These are my own opinions most of which are shared by a group of us who are against stacks preservation. We are now about 60 and counting. All of us do not want our taxes–local, state or federal allocated to preserving the polluted smokestacks.

If you wish to meet with me and discuss this further, I would be happy to go over the extensive documents and references further.

Thank you for your service,

Peggy McNiel

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