Efforts to Save the Stacks not over yet; Trustee says it’s too late

By Genevieve Curtis | KFOX14

EL PASO, Texas —

If you thought the debate over the ASARCO smokestacks was over, you would be wrong.

Tuesday, City Council released documents, detailing some representatives’ efforts to keep the ASARCO smokestacks has continued on behind closed doors.

Rep. Susie Byrd asked the city attorney for legal advice who then employed the assistance of an Austin-based law firm, Birch, Becker & Moorman, LLP, for their opinion.

“I just think there is a creative solution and there is some way,” said Byrd.

Except the recent reveal of the solicitation of outside legal counsel and the subsequent cost of their work, infuriated council member who said, that’s not what they approved in November.

“I never would have voted for it if I thought money was going to be spent,” said Rep. Cortney Niland. Who actually represents the district where the stacks are located?

Several of the representatives said they voted to approve a motion to work with ASARCO trustee Roberto Puga to preserve the stacks, without financial obligation, or didn’t they?

Ortega said spending money to get an opinion from a lawyer on the issue is different than the resolution to not spend money.

“That’s distinct from spending actual money to preserve the stack, to remediate the stack. I know it’s a bit of a distinction but that’s where the distinction was,” said Ortega.

Except the video from the Nov. 27 meeting sounds a little different.

The resolution before council read, “The city is saying it would like to reserve the stacks and work with the trustee.”

To which Ortega adds, “Without financial obligation.”

“Absolutely,” said Niland before voting for the resolution.

But for some reason, the city’s minutes don’t accurately reflect the resolution, failing to include that line, “without financial obligation.”

Puga tells KFOX14, it’s just too late. He’s give the city more than a year to come up with a plan, and still, nothing.

“I think I have been more than fair. I’ve bent over backwards to be accommodating,” said Puga.

Even though council members said they wanted to work with Puga, there’s been little discussion since the November decision.

“The city is willing to work with him. The community is willing to work with him,” said Byrd.

Except, Puga says, no one has made any effort to work with him since the November meeting.

Puga said, aside from one conference call with Ortega, Mayor John Cook, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen.Jose Rodriguez in December, no one has come forward with a plan for preservation.

Without a plan, the original plan, to bring the stacks down in early April, stays in place.

Puga said the trust simply does not have the funds available for preservation. The money for the trust is all going toward cleanup and remediation of the toxic site.

So what about the opinion the city paid for, what does it say?

Not much.

It found that while Puga’s contract and obligations with the trust does not prohibit or prevent him from donating the stack, or leasing it to a government group, it does recognize that Puga would face significant challenges because his actions are heavily scrutinized and reviewed by three separate entities. The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, EPA and the bankruptcy court that gave Puga his charge in the first place will all review his actions and determine if his actions are responsible and acting in the best interest of the ASARCO site.

The TCEQ report does not favor preservation.

Meanwhile, Ortega said the matter “could possibly go to court and so any of the parties that have standing can make these arguments now,” Ortega.
There will be a public meeting about the demolition plans on Feb. 26 at the downtown library.

Source: http://www.kfoxtv.com/news/news/efforts-save-stacks-not-over-yet-trustee-says-its-/nWMGj/