ASARCO cleanup on schedule, on budget

ASARCO cleanup on schedule, on budget

POSTED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 4:49pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 10:08pm

The skyline has definitely changed near the site of the old ASARCO copper smelter.

So has the ground below. 

Sunday marked one year since the smelter’s smokestacks came crashing down as part of a five-year $80 million remediation effort. The remnants of the taller stack still sit on the property, in large piles of light grey rubble.

NewsChannel 9 was given a tour of ASARCO site on Wednesday, guided by Roberto Puga, the trustee overseeing the cleanup.

Puga said crews are putting the finishing touches on a waste cell in one of the arroyos.  A sort of underground tomb for hazardous waste, the cell is being filled with the black rock, or slag, that once filled the arroyo.

The goal, Puga said, is to get the land cleaned up and ready for sale.

“Our entire purpose of spending close to $80 million is to mitigate the threats to human health and to the environment that the site once posed,” he said. “We think we’ve mitigated most of those.”

Puga said he meets weekly with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and quarterly with the Environmental Protection Agency.

He said that though there is still much work to be done over the final 18 months of the process, he is confident the remediation will be completed to meet expectations.

“We’re on schedule and we’re on budget,” he said.

Three and a half years into the process, roughly $60 million of the budget has been spent so far, by Puga’s estimation.

A bankruptcy court gave the ASARCO trust an initial $52 million for the cleanup.  The rest of the money, Puga said, came from the sale of leftover copper found at the site and other equipment.

As for the future of the land, Puga said the City of El Paso remains interested in purchasing the property for potential commercial or industrial use.

He said UTEP, just across I-10, has also approached him.

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