Preparations made for the smokestacks’ demolition

By Rebecca Guerrero | The Prospector

After months of controversy, the iconic Asarco Smelter smokestacks are finally set to be demolished within the first week of April. Because of the university’s close proximity to the demolition site and the nature of the stacks’ removal, UTEP stands as a possible affected area when the day comes.

“Our goal is to try to make sure that the dust that’s created by the explosion doesn’t get past the perimeter of the drop zone,” said Robert Puga, custodial trustee of the Asarco cleanup project. “I will be coordinating closely with UTEP’s Vice President Ricardo Adauto to make sure he knows when we’re going to do this, to make sure that we answer any questions that administration may have, and to make sure that if they have any concerns we will address them.”

According to Puga, both stacks are set to be taken down simultaneously using a tried and true technique that is common when taking down trees or large structures. The process will involve drilling a knothole at the bottom of the tower and placing explosives in it, which will create instability. Gravity will do the rest of the work and bring the stacks down in the desired direction.

Puga said the main concern, besides the health and safety issue of having so many explosives, is making sure that the resulting dust will be controlled.

“What we’re doing is essentially creating a corridor or burr—which is essentially a dirt wall—around the fall zone which will collect dust and then send it upwards as opposed to laterally,” Puga said. “We’re also trying to set up the water system to exaggerate the air in the fall zone with water droplets so that when you drop the stacks into the zone, the water droplets absorb the dust and that will cushion out the effect. There is also a small mountain between the fall zone and UTEP which will act as secondary protection.”

Once the stacks are gone, the cleanup process will still be far from over. According to Puga, the remediation program is set to continue through 2015 and it will not be until that point that the Asarco Trust will be looking to sell the property. According to university officials, UTEP has no current interest in acquiring the land. However, the city of El Paso may have redevelopment plans in place.

The decision to demolish the stacks came after a group called Save the Stacks failed to submit what the Asarco Trust considered a feasible proposal for saving the stacks. According to, the Asarco Trust does not have the funding for the preservation or rehabilitation of the structural integrity of the stacks, or their long-term care and maintenance. This decision was not popular with all El Pasoans.

“It’s super sad that they are going to take them down because we get so used to seeing them and they are not an eye sore, but a reminder of what went on in that area,” said Rene Balandran, sophomore pre-education major. “It’s like a part of the environment now, a usual sight when you go to UTEP, and it holds a lot of history behind it, so it’s a shame that the committee could not save them.”

For those who would like to witness what many will consider a significant event in El Paso history, there will be a community meeting held in February to discuss safe locations where the demolition can be viewed from. Some spots on the UTEP campus may be on the list.

“Potentially one of the higher parking lots along the Sun Bowl that has a view could be used, but that is still something that we need to talk about and convince ourselves that it would be safe. I think it is, but I want to make sure our engineers agree,” Puga said. “There will be other spots, maybe from executive, or a great spot would be Mt. Cristo Rey. The one thing is that because we (are) too close to I-10 and Paisano, this will probably be done very early in the morning on a Sunday so that we can interrupt traffic as little as possible. So if you want to see it you would have to get up early on a weekend.”

Though many are upset the stacks are finally coming down, there are still those who will be happy to see them go.

“I like that they’re tearing them down because it won’t be constant reminder of the bad history that went on there involving health issues,” said Maria Gonzalez, sophomore anthropology major. “I won’t be watching them come down on a Sunday morning, I trust someone will be recording it and that’s what YouTube is for.”

Rebecca Guerrero can be reached at