UT System to consider Asarco purchase

Trustee: ‘We are getting close to an agreement’

By Robert Gray El Paso Inc. staff writer

Roberto Puga, the bankruptcy trustee charged with dismantling the former Asarco smelter, says he has nearly completed the long-anticipated sale of the 458-acre property to the University of Texas System.

On Thursday, the UT System Board of Regents will discuss the purchase of the entire property, which straddles Interstate 10 near the University of Texas at El Paso campus, according to the meeting agenda.

“We are at the stage that we are ready to conclude an agreement to sell the property,” Puga told El Paso Inc. “We are working with the UT System to see if we can close the deal with them to buy the property.”

The Board of Regents is chaired by El Paso businessman and philanthropist Paul Foster.
It’s a complicated deal that has been in the works for at least two years. But Puga said they are now close to having an agreement and are working on the contract language. The potential sale price has not been made public.

“I am hopeful we can come to a satisfactory conclusion to all this effort,” Puga said.
The land would be used for the future expansion of the University of Texas at El Paso, which has become landlocked as the city has grown up around it, according to the agenda.

In response to an interview request, Richard Adauto, UTEP executive vice president, said in a statement, “We are unable to comment until after the Regents meet.”

Some of the property will have development restrictions, according to Puga. But the 248 acres north of Interstate 10 and adjacent the campus could be used to accommodate student housing and classrooms. UT System officials toured the property a few weeks ago, Puga said.

The $80-million cleanup of the property, which operated as a copper smelter for more than 100 years, should be completed in the next couple of months as planned, according to Puga. The smelter’s two big stacks were demolished in 2013.

“We’re just about done with the remediation,” he said.

The landmark is hardly recognizable now that the stacks are gone and nearly all signs of the industry that was once a pillar of El Paso’s economy has been wiped away. The most polluted portions of the site have been covered with a 5-foot-deep cap of clean dirt.

The funds for the sale will go into a trust to be used for monitoring the site, including the ground water and air quality.

In an interview last year with El Paso Inc., UT System Chancellor William McRaven called the purchase a “great idea.”

“It would be good for the city of El Paso, because we will be good stewards of the land,” McRaven said.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to take up the agenda item in executive session at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 at the meeting in Austin. The regents are scheduled to take action, if any, on the executive session items at 1:30 p.m.

The agenda is posted online at www.utsystem.edu, where there will be a live webcast. Details of the Asarco cleanup are posted online at www.RecastingTheSmelter.com.

Source: http://www.elpasoinc.com/news/local_news/article_ffbf706a-a537-11e6-851e-a328604b5925.html