EL PASO – The skyline in El Paso changed forever on Saturday April 13 when the two ASARCO smokestacks imploded leaving an empty space, a day prior to the demolition of City Hall.
The stacks fell in slow motion, as if slowly saying goodbye to their longtime home. Viewing the demolition from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) parking lot across from Interstate 10, I reflected on the experience I had writing a story on the last-ditch efforts to save the stacks.
The stacks had a profound historical impact on the city and many people wanted to stop the demolition. The first event I attended was a protest lead by El Paso AWARE, an organization that focused on stopping the demolition until proper testing was done. The protest allowed me to interview people for my story but it also shed some light on ASARCO’s problems.
Trying to remain objective on a topic is not hard but sometimes you have to fight trying to put your opinion in your news stories. I am still not sure if I would, I say I was for or against the demolition. After the demolition, however I did feel a pang of guilt or sadness.
This event will go down in El Paso history and I think that in the future people will ask, “Where were you when the stacks fell down?”
I-10 would be my answer, the UTEP parking lot adjacent to I-10 to be exact. There were no road closures on the UTEP property and many people took advantage of this. Citizens lined the mountains and the guardrails of I-10. I was surprised that police did not tell people to leave from the area.
A press conference held on the ASARCO property, the Thursday before the demolition provided information to media about what was going to happen on Saturday morning. At this time, I was able to see and feel the water cannons they used during the demolition. There were multiple water cannons surrounding the stacks to help minimize the amount of dust from the impact of the stacks. For me the most important thing was finally being able to visit the ASARCO site before they would be gone forever.
When I was taking pictures I tried photographing things no on else was photographing. Being able to come up with new angles and different approaches to the same topic is challenging but possible.
Leaving the press conference I felt privileged being able to do something that most would not be able to do. We are the medium from which people get their information and news and it is up to us to deliver anything we feel is important to the story.
The day had finally arrived and I was nervous that I would miss the shot. When I got to UTEP, another news station had beaten me to the spot I wanted. The, “You heard it here first” is what many news outlets are aiming for. It is all about timing and aiming to be number one.
That morning the air was cold and I forgot my jacket. Being cold was the least of my worries.
Before the demolition began, many spectators started pointing out three people paragliding in the sky. From the camera’s eye, they resembled birds. Officials can control the streets, they can control the areas around them but they cannot control the sky. Those individuals in the sky had one of the best views of the demolition. One has to think if those people paragliding caused the ten-minute delay. My first thought was, “I wonder if this is a last ditch effort to stop the demolition.”
From the conversations that went on around me, others had the same thoughts as well. Many people were filming and having conversations about what they could see at the site. They had doubts whether the water cannons spraying water over the fall zone would stop dust from forming. Minutes before the stacks fell an individual asked a group of UTEP students to stop talking because they were ruining the video. I could not help but widen my eyes and drop my jaw as he said this. The next couple of minutes were somewhat silent with only muttered conversations happening around the area.
Black smoke started seeping out of the small stack and it slowly began falling forward. When it finally hit the ground, a cloud of white smoke rose up as the second one began to fall. At the sight of the larger stack falling one spectator shouted, “I’m scared.”
I think the second stack was more significant. Growing up I would always keep an eye out for the large pipe with the word ASARCO going down it. I used the stacks as GPS. If I saw the stacks approaching or off to the side I knew, I had traveled too far and would have to turn around at Executive Center.
After the stacks were gone, I felt a little pinch in my stomach. I had the mindset that I will not believe the stacks will be gone until I see them fall. It was not until the stacks were gone that it hit me that they are gone. It has only been a week since the stacks fell but I have already gotten used to the fact that they are gone. Others may not be able to adjust so quickly.
After the demolition, Roberto Puga Site Custodial Trustee held a press conference regarding what occurred during the demolition and what the future holds for ASARCO. While answering questions Puga addressed the issue of the demolition delay. While the public was very helpful in observing the road closures, one individual ran across the arroyo causing the 10-minute delay. I would assume the people floating in the sky would have been for major concern. Puga mentioned that while they can prepare for everything there are surprises that you just cannot prepare for. Officials asked helicopters in the sky to keep an eye on the individuals.
ASARCO has a long history in El Paso and it will not end simply because the stacks are gone. In the year 2016, the ASARCO land might go up for sale. Another great tradition could come out of the sale of the ASARCO land. The demolition marked the end of a generation and I echo what some spectators said: ASARCO was the funeral and City Hall was the party.