Editorial: UT interest in Asarco land makes sense

El Paso Times Editorial Board

Paul Foster (Courtesy photo)

The University of Texas System’s interest in the purchase of the old Asarco site offers intriguing possibilities for El Paso.

UT regents, in a rare meeting in El Paso this week, discussed the possibility of buying the 440-acre property for future UTEP expansion. Part of the land is adjacent to the UTEP campus, while much of it sits across Interstate 10 from UTEP.

“It really was just a matter of bringing it to the attention of the board, and making sure they’re all in agreement” that the purchase would be beneficial, regents Chairman Paul L. Foster of El Paso said.

Much work lies ahead before any purchase can be executed, particularly ongoing environmental remediation at the longtime copper smelting site that is expected to be finished late next year.

“That transaction is far from being finalized,” Foster said.

Asarco operated a copper smelter on the property for decades before closing in the late 1990s as copper prices sank. The company tried to reopen the site but was met with fierce opposition in El Paso. Eventually, the ownership filed for bankruptcy protection and the site is now overseen by bankruptcy trustee Roberto Puga.

UTEP is currently landlocked, with no room for expansion. The Asarco land would change that, giving UTEP more options as it moves forward in its second century.

“It’s certainly a very big step for us, and obviously this is property that for a long time hasn’t been available and now is,” UTEP President Diana Natalicio said.

UTEP expansion has been one frequently mentioned use of the land. Others include using it for shopping, park space or as a site for a Major League Soccer stadium.

A UT System purchase of the land wouldn’t foreclose any of those other options.

“I think this would be a great opportunity and a great benefit for UT El Paso,” Regent Ernest Aliseda of McAllen said.

The Asarco land is prime real estate for El Paso’s future. Given the role UTEP must play in building that future, it makes sense for the UT System to consider the purchase.

And the regents’ cautious approach makes sense. Nothing can be done before the environmental cleanup is complete.

But eventual UTEP control of at least some of the Asarco land makes a lot of sense.

Source: http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_26893997/ut-interest-asarco-land-makes-sense