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Crews make progress on Asarco cleanup a year later

By: Stacey Welsh

EL PASO, Texas --  Crews are working to clean up the land on the former Asarco site a year after the demolition of the Asarco stacks.

The Texas Custodial Trust owns the 400 acres of land, and plans to clean up contamination from the site are on track to finish by early 2016.

"We've constructed a hazardous waste cell and filled it with impacted materials from the site. We are looking to close that cell at the end of this year," site trustee Roberto Puga said.

Puga said workers are doing chemical tests on rocks, dirt and other waste at the site because some of the material does have traces of arsenic and lead.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency are also overseeing the cleanup to make sure crews are safe.

"We've completed all the demolition. There are no structures left standing at the site with the exception of the administration building. The administration building is a building that dates back to 1887, and we've kept it standing because some members of the community were interested in preserving that," Puga said.

While the cleanup is underway, Puga said the trust is looking for a group to pay for renovations and maintain the building. The El Paso County Historical Commission is interested in taking over the building.

"We'll certainly have a new face on the grounds at Asarco. We're just hoping we can solidify our situation with the trustee so that we're part of that face," historical commission chairman Bernie Sargent said.

The historical commission could turn the old administration building into a museum and hopes members of the community will donate money to make that happen.

"We'll feature Smeltertown, which is where some [people] grew up. The history of Asarco mining and so on. It's just a tremendous opportunity for El Paso and the rest of the world to learn about our tapestry of heritage," Sargent said.

Some who were against demolition in the first place said they would support saving that piece of Asarco.

"In El Paso, we seem to be destroying [landmarks] that will stay and give (a) name to the city," west El Paso resident Arturo Iglesias said.

Puga said one of the next steps is closing off the waste cell crews have collected. After that, the land should be ready for redevelopment.


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