City Council denies resolution to save ASARCO smokestacks

City Council voted 5-3 today to deny a resolution that may have saved the tallest of Asarco's smokestacks, meaning the 826 foot tall stack will likely be demolished along with a shorter stack early next year as part of a $69 million remediation of the site.

City representatives Ann Morgan Lilly, Carl Robinson, Dr. Michiel Noe, Eddie Holguin and Cortney Niland voted against the resolution. City representatives Susie Byrd, Emma Acosta and Steve Ortega voted for the resolution.

City representative Susie Byrd then made a motion for a resolution to support preserving the stack without financial obligation to the city. That passed 5-4 with Mayor John Cook breaking the tie. However, without the city assuming ownership and liability of the stack, it's expected to be a difficult task, according to Asarco Site Trustee Roberto Puga.

Council heard passionate pleas from both sides during the more than three hour debate, including the "Save the Stacks" group that had worked for the past year to come up with a plan to spare the stacks from demolition.

But in the end,  Puga's concerns about the stability of the tallest stack, the potential liability and lack of marketability of the site with the stacks, won out.

"Our experts feel there is a large issue with the stability of the large stack," Puga said. "There is severe consequences to the failure of the stack and that needs to be taken into consideration."

Puga said if the City wanted to save the stacks it would have to assume that liability, retrofit the stack and purchase the entire 153 acre parcel the stack sits on. Puga estimated the cost at about $5 million for a retrofit fix and $10 million to purchase the land.

Meanwhile, members of the "Save the Stacks" group argued that retrofitting the stack to make it stable would cost $1.5 to $2.5 million. They also accused Puga of "moving the goalposts" when it came to his requirements to save the tallest stack.

"An important part of El Paso history is being held hostage by people with no investment in our city," said Geoffrey Wright, president of the "Save the Stacks" group. "The stack is the tallest structure in El Paso County."

Others called the fight to preserve the stack as a monument to the people who worked there "a David and Goliath struggle."

"Goliath is Mr. Puga," said "Save the Stacks" member Gary Sapp. "I hated Asarco when we figured out what it was doing to our community. But hate the sin, not the sinner."

Others said they didn't understand why anyone would want to save the stack and assume the cost and liability.

"I have 40 signatures from people who do not want any tax dollars to go toward saving the stacks," said El Pasoan Peggy McNeil. "Via the court settlement, Asarco money is paying for the demolition. Why would anyone want to assume the liability for future generations?"

Others argued that demolishing the stacks will cause future issues.

"Blowing up these stacks and burying it into a hole just adds to the contamination," said Bill Addington. "That's crazy! In my opinion the stack should be capped and left in place."

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