Roberto Puga, the bankruptcy trustee charged with cleaning and disposing of the former Asarco smelter, says he hopes to wrap it up by the end of the year.
That’s not really new, but Puga is reaffirming his previously announced timeline as the year runs out.
What is new is how apparent it becomes what a marvelous job he has done. Consider:
• Puga walked into the old Asarco plant for the first time in 2009. His job was to remediate the site and dispose of it. He was given $52 million to accomplish that.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated that I would be able to sell this property,” he said. Yet by the end of this year remediation should be so successful that much of the land can be used for just about anything.
• Puga did this by orchestrating a global sale of the plant’s material and machinery that brought in $24.8 million, which enabled him to do a more thorough job of the remediation.
• Aware of the tremendous community interest, Puga responded with openness and transparency throughout the process. There were no surprises, even when the stacks came down.
• Puga truly seems to have the long-term interests of El Paso at heart. He has made no secret of his desire to see landlocked UTEP acquire the site’s 458 acres.
In fact, he has architectural drawings of how the site could be used to accommodate student housing and classrooms. This would be on the 248 acres north of Interstate 10 and adjacent the campus.
• To make sure the site poses no danger in the future, money from the sale will go into a trust to be used for monitoring ground water and air quality in perpetuity. He said UTEP was the one partner he thought could be counted on to administer the site.
Asked what he expected the Asarco property to fetch, Puga declined to provide a number, citing ongoing negotiations on the sale. He did say he expected the price to be “in the low eight figures.”
Puga, a geologist, made his comments Thursday during the Rotary Club of El Paso’s weekly luncheon.
Puga said that while the Asarco project will be the highlight of his 25-year career, it has been very different from other projects because of the high level of community interest.
“Through it all, the one thing that struck me was how polite and civil the people of El Paso were – even when they didn’t agree,” he said.
Were that all bankruptcy trustees were so sensitive.