Voters may have signed the death warrant for the historic smokestacks in downtown Murray, but it was left to the City Council Wednesday night to drive the final nail into the coffin.
The council voted 3-1 in favor of a motion that the present owners of the smokestacks retain possession of the chimneys.It was an unusual motion, technically unnecessary since ownership of the stacks only would have changed if council members had decided to ignore the results of Tuesday's special election and voted to acquire them.
But the council action will stand as an official statement of the city's intentions regarding the smokestacks. The vote will be reported to Environmental Protection Agency officials Thursday.
Murray voters defeated by a 4-1 margin a proposed general obligation bond to provide up to $3.4 million to seismically stabilize and preserve the chimneys.
According to the special election canvass, also approved Wednesday night, 3,350 Murray residents voted against the bond issue and 932 voted in support.
City officials are interpreting the vote as a rejection of the tax increase that would have been required to fund preservation, not as a public repudiation of the smokestacks themselves.
But that philosophical fine point won't save the chimneys, which will now be disposed of by the family held corporation that owns most of the old downtown smelter site, Hi-Ute Buehner.
Throughout the myriad discussions that led up to the special election Tuesday, council members repeatedly were informed the pres-ent owners have no desire to retain the chimneys because of long-range liability issues.
Councilman John Ward, who worked hard to save the smokestacks, cast the dissenting vote with the comment he didn't believe the motion was necessary.
In making the motion, Chairman Leon Robertson cited the overwhelming voter mandate not to spend public funds on the stacks.
"My biggest concern was the liability the city would have from now until whenever" if it acquired the chimneys, he said. "Somewhere along the line, someone would fall off one of those things or use it for a suicide jump."
Councilman Gary Ferrero said it was unfortunate the city didn't have more time to explore funding sources other than a bond issue.
"If we'd had more time to deal with this," he said, "we might have dealt with it differently."
Ferrero also said Mayor Dan Snarr's administration shouldn't be blamed for the outcome of the vote and noted the city's staff had done the best job it could in the time available to air the issues.
Following the meeting, Snarr's chief of staff said the city will relay its motion to Hi-Ute Buehner so corporate officers can notify EPA officials Thursday about it's intentions for the chimneys.
"The company will have to submit a work plan, and the EPA will have to approve it," said D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli. "The chimneys are in the EPA's hands now."
She said there's always a possibility a decision could be made to preserve the chimneys.
But barring some 11th-hour miracle, it's far more likely Murray residents will be watching the demolition of the smokestacks on the 10 o'clock news or in the footage of some future disaster movie.
Pignanelli said she expects the old American Smelter and Refining Co. site west of State will be fenced off by Aug. 1 so a contractor can begin soil removal.
Murray has spearheaded the effort to arrange an EPA-approved environmental cleanup of the site, clearing the way for a billion dollar-plus downtown redevelopment project that will include a massive new medical center, restaurants, upscale retail stores, a multi-screen theater complex and a light-rail station.