MINGO JUNCTION - As the once roaring Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill enters its fifth year of silence, steelworkers and government officials maintain hope for a restart - even as the facility's current owner demolishes its older portions.
The Mingo facility, the largest of the former Wheeling-Pitt plants, still contains the modern $115 million electric arc furnace installed in 2004. However, workers have not produced any steel at the plant since its 2009 idling while under the ownership of OAO Severstal.
Due to RG Steel's 2012 bankruptcy, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Frontier Industrial purchased the entire Mingo facility - including its electric arc furnace - for just $20 million. Last year, Frontier branded the closed mill as the "Mingo Junction Steel Works."
PART OF PLANT COMING DOWN — Contractors demolish part of the Mingo Junction Steel Works plant, which has been closed since OAO Severstal owned it in 2009. The plant once employed thousands of workers under the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel badge. - Casey Junkins
"We do speak with Frontier representatives on a regular basis," said Mingo Junction Village Administrator Steve Maguschak. "They have obtained demolition permits for the older sections of the mill."
On a Thursday visit to the site, workers could be seen demolishing portions of the north side of the plant. According to Frontier's website, the company specializes in "dismantling, industrial gutting, plant stripouts and scrap metals recycling ..."
Nevertheless, Craig Slater, general counsel and vice president for Frontier, previously said he would work to find investors to help restart portions of the mill. He estimated this would take roughly an $80 million investment and six months of work.
"We feel kind of like a duck. Our feet are moving awfully fast under the water, but you can't see anything moving on the surface," he said last year regarding his efforts.
Slater said if anyone has plans to operate the mill again, a critical component of the business strategy will need to be finding an economical source of energy. He said last year he engaged in discussions with American Electric Power, as well as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, to possibly work out a deal for reduced power rates.
Slater did not return calls seeking further comment for this article.
"They are currently attempting to find a investor to open the southern sections of the mill, such as the continuous caster, 80-inch (hot strip mill), and electric arc furnace," Maguschak said.
Because the mill has been shut down for so long, the United Steelworkers Local 1190 office closed last year. Tony Montana, spokesman for the USW, said the union believes an operator could restart the mill to provide new jobs.
"The Mingo assets are in good shape. The assets have not been cannibalized," he said.
As the Mingo plant awaits a final destiny, the former Wheeling-Pitt plant in Yorkville also sits idle. Esmark Inc. purchased this facility for $4.7 million during the 2012 RG bankruptcy. Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined Esmark Chairman and CEO James P. Bouchard at the plant in October 2012 to announce the acquisition and plans for a restart. Shortly thereafter, USW members voted 194-24 to accept Esmark's contract offer in hopes of getting back to work.
Since then, however, Esmark has not done anything in Yorkville. The company is considering offers for the mill's assets.
As for the remaining former Wheeling-Pitt facilities, the rusting structures of the former Steubenville plant are now mostly gone, thanks to the demolition efforts of Wheeling-based Strauss Industries. Wheeling businessmen Quay Mull and Joseph N. Gompers purchased the Martins Ferry mill land for $2 million. The long-time Wheeling-Pitt corporate headquarters in downtown Wheeling was eventually sold to New Albany, Ohio-based Access Infrastructures for $800,000.