Valley’s heart skips a beat with plan for auction at mill

Residents of the Mahoning Valley can be forgiven for reacting with trepidation to the announcement that an auction will be held in March to get rid of equipment in the former RG Steel mill in Warren.

To their credit, the new owners of the plant on Pine Avenue Southeast moved quickly to reassure the region that the auction was not the beginning of the end for the plant, which ceased operation last summer. More than 1,000 workers have been laid off.

The equipment being sold is non-operational and outdated. It has not been used for years and does not affect the mill’s ability to make steel, said Victor DiGeronimo, president of Independence Excavating in Cleveland.

Independence Excavating is a partner in BDM Warren Steel Holdings LLC, which bought the steel-making facility in August for $17 million after RG Steel declared bankruptcy.

The new owners, DiGeronimo said, continue to look for an operator for “the steelmaking side of the mill.”

Charles Betters of C.J. Betters Enterprises of Monaco, Pa., offered a similar assurance to the people of the Mahoning Valley when he expressed an interest in buying the idle plant. A bankruptcy court in Delaware approved Betters’ purchase offer.

While we have praised him for his honesty in admitting that he does not know how to operate a steel mill, we have worried that the longer the mill remains mothballed, the greater the chance of it never reopening.

But Betters and DiGeronimo have made it clear that the expenditure of more than $500,000 to winterize the plant and additional spending to turn bearings, motors and the like so they will be ready for use are proof of the owners’ commitment.

The items being auctioned are from the machine and carpentry shops. The inventory also includes old, nonoperational finishing equipment.

A Canadian auction house, Maynard Industries, along with three other industrial auction houses, will conduct the sale on site and via webcast. The event will begin March 12 and end March 15.

While the comments from DiGeronimo and Betters are reassuring, we would hope the owners of the mill understand that the region has lived with the disappointment of seeing old steel mills end their lives on the chopping block — literally.

Economic impact

As we noted in an editorial in September, there is a lot at stake with the number of jobs that would be lost, and the impact on the economy of the city of Warren and the Valley. Thus, we have called on the administration of President Barack Obama and state government to get directly involved with the new owners to find an operator for the plant.

Betters has hit just the right notes during his visits to the area, the last time in late August when he talked about his personal experience with steel-making communities.

“I came from Aliquippa. I saw the same thing [a closed steel mill] happen. I know it doesn’t feel good. … Remember this day. I know what the jobs mean. I get it. If we’re lucky to get a restart, perform.”

That was his message to the laid off workers.

Our message to him and his partners: Reopen the mill and the steel workers of the Mahoning Valley will perform.

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