Texas group on mission to save smokestacks
Some people say Asarco’s dormant chimneys are a mark of El Paso’s industrial heritage and should be preserved.
The Associated Press
EL PASO, Texas — People in El Paso spent decades trying to close a massive copper plant they said spewed fumes that made their eyes teary, their lungs burn. Workers got sick and blamed the company. A hill near a college campus gradually turned black as the smokestacks churned out heavy emissions year after year.
The people claimed victory when the Asarco copper smelter shut down in 1999. Now, more than a decade later, some who opposed the plant are banding together in a longshot effort to prevent the demolition of the plant’s iconic smokestacks that have dominated the local skyline for nearly half a century. The chimneys, they say, are a mark of the city’s industrial heritage and should be preserved as a monument to workers who fell ill due to toxic materials incinerated at the site.
“I want them to stay as a reminder that people in a democracy can stand up like David to Goliath and win,” said Daniel Arellano, a former acid-plant operator who has myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disease, after working at the plant from 1975-99.
He is among a group of former workers and residents supporting the cause of Save the Stacks, a group dedicated to raising money to purchase the site before the towers are demolished in early 2013. But the trustee in charge of cleaning and selling the 153-acre property said he has given the group enough time to raise the funds and has made up his mind to tear down the last remaining pieces.
The group believes there is a chance to save the towers and turn them into the nation’s tallest monument. Standing at more than 820 feet, the tallest chimney took 29 days of round-the-clock concrete pouring to build, and it rises higher than the Washington Monument or the St. Louis Arch.
“They want to wipe away our history,” said Robert Ardovino, a member of Save the Stacks. “As a city, we deserve something good to come from it — and a giant slab of asphalt and a box store is not it.”
Asarco filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and four years later placed $52 million in a trust to clean up the area.
The towers were to be demolished last spring but the trustee granted a one-year moratorium so Save the Stacks could have time to raise money and show the structures were stable.
The group has a long way to go to raise enough funds. It has collected less than $40,000 and estimates it would cost about $3.9 million to keep the smokestacks standing.
The group also failed to get any backing from the city.