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Federal benefits to cushion demise of Sparrows Point

Baltimore County is urging laid-off steelworkers to sign up for $1.8 million in federal unemployment relief benefits as it scrambles to cope with the end of more than 100 years of steelmaking at Sparrows Point.

The cold mill was the most modern part of the sprawling steelmaking complex; it will be cannibalized for parts.

The Point, which in its heyday during and after World War II employed some 30,000 workers, has been closed since its former owner, RG Steel, filed for bankruptcy in May. Some 2,000 workers were idled shortly afterward.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said Hilco Industrial, a company that specializes in liquidations, tried to sell the plant for steelmaking but found no buyers. He said Hilco now plans to sell all remaining assets and raze the property.

“Baltimore County is deploying $1.8 million in federal grants to support steelworkers and their families,” Kamenetz said at a Thursday morning news conference in Towson.

“We have set up a dedicated steelworker assistance unit and hired seven full-time specialists to provide direct, one-on-one help to steelworkers.

“I urge all former RG Steel workers to visit the Eastpoint Workforce Center and apply immediately for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits,” Kamenetz said. “We do not want any steelworkers to miss out on valuable federal assistance because they missed a critical application deadline.”

That deadline, Kamenetz said, will fall this month — 26 weeks after the layoffs.

American Metal Markets reported Wednesday that Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp. had bought parts of the cold mill at Sparrows Point for replacement and upgrades at its own plants, ringing the death knell on any attempt to resume steelmaking at the Point.

In Annapolis, Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement Thursday that he was disappointed by the sale of key equipment. O’Malley said he had been hopeful the plant would remain a viable steelmaking operation.

The governor said the state will work with Baltimore County and United Steelworkers Local 9477 to ensure that Sparrows Point remains a viable employment center for the county and the state. He said the state, too, stands ready to provide additional assistance to union members during the transition and has dedicated resources to Sparrows Point workers.

Joe Rosel, president of the Local 9477, said union officials will talk to the state to see if the new owners can be forced to find an operator.

Kamenetz said the end of the steel industry in Dundalk is a point of community anguish.

“Today we face the difficult reality that more than a century of steelmaking as we know it has come to an end in Baltimore County,” he said in a statement. “We all have fought hard to prevent this day. The entire community feels the emotional and financial impact, whether you are a former RG Steel or Bethlehem Steel worker, a retiree living in Turner Station or a business owner in Dundalk.

“I personally want to thank Joe Rosel … for his efforts over the past 18 months. He is angry and has a right to be angry. No one has worked harder to save the steel industry here than Joe.”

Earlier this year, Kamenetz formed a task force to study ways to help reintroduce economic development to the Sparrows Point area in the wake of the bankruptcy filing and layoffs. That group is expected to release a report next year.

“I am confident that Sparrows Point will again be a vibrant job center, with new 21st century businesses and 21st century jobs,” Kamenetz said. “The work of Baltimore County’s Sparrows Point Partnership is critical as we look forward to opportunities to bring advanced manufacturing, clean energy, logistics and port-related uses to this historic industrial peninsula.

“In Baltimore County, we are tough. We may get knocked down, but we always get back up.”

The Maryland Port Administration has long had an interest in buying part or all of the Point, whose location at the mouth of Baltimore’s harbor gives it a strategic position on the Chesapeake Bay. As a working steel works, the facility regularly docked deepwater vessels carrying coal and iron ore, and it had its own short-line railroad that connected with CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Port Executive Director James J. White said in October that he and O’Malley had met with ownership to express interest in buying a 300-acre parcel.

“We’ve always had a twinkle in our eye with Sparrows Point,” White said at the time. “I think Sparrows Point, as far as an expansion of marine terminals, offers us a great opportunity.”

Richard Scher, a Port spokesman, said Thursday that plans had not changed.

“We’re still interested and plan to continue conversations with the property owner,” Scher said.

Daily Record Business Writer Alexander Pyles and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

One comment

  1. Give me a break. Baltimore County and State officials, including people at the Maryland Port Administration, wanted Sparrows Point closed so that the State and developers could have the land. The State threatened potential buyers with unlimited environmental liability and then, suddenly, cut a sweet deal with a liquidator to allow the liquidator to “remediate” the site in a way that is far from being standard in the industry.

    Instead of doing a puff piece on how great a Baltimore County politician is, how about reporting the real story about how all of these workers, and the surrounding neighborhood, were sold out?