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[United States]
Posted on : Aug 31, 2006
Asarco LLC wants a bankruptcy judge to approve
an $11.3 million stock purchase of a railway that's integral to the mining
company's operations.
The company said it already owns 45% of the
outstanding capital stock of the Copper Basin Railway Inc., a short-line freight
railroad in south central Arizona.
Asarco is Copper Basin's largest customer,
accounting for more than 95% of its freight revenue. The rail line has become
crucial to Asarco's business through the transport of sulfide copper ore and
copper concentrates from Asarco's Ray Mine in Arizona.
Copper Basin also carries sulfuric acid, a
byproduct of Asarco's smelting operations used in the extraction of oxide copper
from the company's Hayden plant also in Arizona.
Asarco said that because of the "symbiotic
relationship" between Asarco and Copper Basin, any disruption in the operations
of either company would spark a corresponding loss of revenue for both parties.

Currently, 55% of the outstanding stock of
Copper Basin is owned by Rail Partners II. According to recently filed court
papers, a working relationship between the two companies was formed in 1986.

But Asarco said interaction between the two
sides has become contentious. K. Earl Durden, who owns and controls Rail
Partners, had been at odds with Asarco over a fair market price for the stock.

Court papers said Ernst & Young was retained by
Durden to appraise the stock's worth and arrived at the $11.3 million price.
Asarco disputed the figure. This sparked litigation over an alleged breach by
Asarco of a stock-sale provision that obligated the mining company to purchase
Durden's shares.
The litigation was put on hold following the
start of Asarco's bankruptcy filing in August 2005.
Asarco said it now wants to meet Durden's $11.3
million figure after learning that a possible sale of his interest in rail line
could be completed in the coming weeks.
Asarco said that it didn't want to risk an
interruption in service or a rise in freight rates.
Judge Richard S. Schmidt of the U.S. Bankruptcy
Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, is scheduled to consider the railway purchase at
a hearing scheduled for Sept. 12.
Recently, Asarco LLC won permission to hire a
former subsidiary to perform a $276,000 environmental cleanup of an old lead
smelter in Montana that is scheduled to be demolished by the end of the year.

Schmidt authorized Asarco to hire Hydrometrics
Inc. to perform the cleanup of the 118-year-old smelter in East Helena. The
smelter is considered one of the country's most dangerous hazardous-waste sites.

Asarco, a unit of Grupo Mexico SA de CV (GMEXICO.MX),
hasn't operated the East Helena facility since 2001. Amid threats of fines by
Montana regulators, the company agreed last year to clean up the site. But a
labor strike last summer tipped the company into bankruptcy proceedings,
delaying implementation of the settlement with Montana authorities.
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