Joe Muench: Ingenuous plan for using those Asarco properties

By Joe Muench / El Paso Times

I’m always trying to help out.

So here’s the deal. Tell Asarco we’ll settle for $25 million in “clean-up fees,” plus deeds to its properties, and then the Crudlanders can go away free and clear.

Go smelt up Amarillo again, or something.

Now don’t interrupt me with nitpicks on why we can’t do that.

We use the $25 million to cover would-have-been city tax hikes the next three or four years.

Asarco might like that deal since a judge has ordered it to pay much more — $52 million to remediate the smelter contaminants.

So who pays for clean-up, then?

Nobody. We let it sit. Rename it Chernobyl.

Now don’t interrupt me with nitpicks on, “What about the groundwater contamination?” I’m trying to get us a tax freeze here. We just won’t drink water from around there. Let Ed Archuleta at Water Utilities figure it out.

How long must the chemical land sit?

I say at least half a century. No big deal.

That’s as long it would take this fast-moving city to build something there, anyway. It’s probably a project for Mayor John Cook, great grandson of Mayor John Cook.

What about EPA concerns?

What about ’em? We’re leaving it the way it’s been since Pancho Villa worked there — a dirty eyesore and two smokestacks.

Anyway, eventually some researcher at UTEP will discover a profitable use for the slag. And we’ll sell it.

But if it sits there and just decays, won’t that pose a health risk?

Hey, they’re still breathing in Downtown.

Are you telling me some of those pitted-out stores aren’t just sitting there decaying?

I do have a Plan B. If Asarco stalls and spits and won’t sell … we use eminent domain.

We’ll be taking blighted land for public use. Legit.

Then John Cook could push to put John Cook’s coveted aquarium there. We could have the largest catfish tank on Earth.

Health hazard? We’d use levee catfish. They don’t care what they swim in.

On the Asarco land north of the freeway, far from the smelter proper, city Rep. Ray Caballero could put his great grandfather Ray Caballero’s “Central Park.” And maybe build the long-talked about arena there, too.

Those would all be public use amenities, not a private land grab.

There’s not a lot of crud on that side of the freeway, so trees and grass wouldn’t die — as long as we don’t use the Asarco groundwater in the sprinkling systems. Right, Ed?

I have to believe the city has already pondered these plans, but said no.

And it’s not because Cook, O’Rourke, Ortega, Byrd and Lilly are insisting on a tax hike.

Now don’t interrupt me with nitpicks on those five just wanting to run off the “can’t afford it citizens.”

No, here’s what is probably the city’s reasoning (John Cook has put it in writing, and then into a time capsule, for John Cook):

The city wants to own the land so it can sell it to private developers at a huge profit.

But it doesn’t want to pay for clean-up.

So, they’ll find out developers’ plans. What they want to buy. What they plan to put there.

If it’s OK with the city, then Asarco is made to clean it up to EPA requirements for that type of project. And the city zones it that way as part of the deal.

I like no tax hike and let it rot. Joe Muench, can figure the rest out in 50 years.

Joe Muench may be reached at