Demolition of steel mill dashes any hope of revival in Warren

2“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh. What happened?’” Darlene St. George, Howland Township administrator, after a recent tour of the steel mill property where demolition of most of the buildings at the north end made the site look “like a bomb went off.”

“The End of an Era — Legacy of steelmaking comes crashing down in Warren.” — Front-page headline in Sunday’s Vindicator highlighting the fact that after more than a century, an entity that changed the character of the city of Warren and Howland and Warren townships has succumbed to economic realities and is falling victim to the wrecking ball.

The story of what began as Trumbull Steel Co. in 1913 is, in reality, the story of heavy manufacturing in the Mahoning Valley. Steel was king in those heady days when working in the mills after high school was the rule for most blue-collar families.

Trumbull Steel became Republic Steel in 1929, which was subsequently purchased by Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. J&L evolved into LTV Steel.

Then came the 1980s and the retrenchment of the industry in the Valley.

LTV declared bankruptcy and was reorganized as WCI Steel. The Renco Group bought WCI, which filed for bankruptcy in 2002. Six years later, Severstal SA of Russia bought the mill.

In the aftermath of big steel’s demise in the Valley, the Russian company’s ownership created a major buzz. We, like many in the tri-county area, had high hopes for a revival because Severstal had deep pockets.

However, in 2011, the Russians sold the mill to RG Steel. A year later, RG filed for bankruptcy, and BDM Warren, with Betters as the face of the new ownership, took over.

There was cautious optimism, triggered in large part by Betters’ public pronouncements and his meetings with business and political leaders and steel workers who had lost their jobs. More than 1,000 employees received pink slips.

Fast forward to September 2013 and the filing of paperwork and permit applications to demolish all the property at the 1,200-acre facility. Hope turned to despair.

BDM Warren had spent $1 million winterizing the hot mill, but failure to find a buyer put it on the chopping block.

Local government and development officials can only sit back and watch as another chapter of the region’s industrial history comes to a close.

Company’s responsibility

But, that doesn’t mean BDM Warren’s responsibility to the community ends with the tearing down of the mill complex. The company has an obligation to return the site to its original state, so it can be reused without the hindrances that have made the redevelopment of brownfields such a challenge.

All existing and potential environmental barriers to the reuse of the property should be dealt with by the company.

Finally, the Valley must come together to determine the best use for the site and to go after federal and state grants for use in an incentive package.

This region has the ability to lure major private investment, as Vallourec Star’s $1.2 billion state-of-the-art steel-making facility along Route 422 between Youngstown and Girard shows. We just need everyone on the same page.

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