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Johnson talks about future of Yorkville plant

January 22, 2014
By CASEY JUNKINS - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

YORKVILLE - Following their $4.7 million purchase of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill as part of RG Steel's bankruptcy filing in October 2012, Esmark Inc. officials quickly renamed the Yorkville facility the Ohio Cold Rolling Co.

On Tuesday, United Steelworkers Local 1223 President Jerry Conners told U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and members of Yorkville Council that the only thing cold about the plant is the temperature, as there has not been any work there since Esmark's purchase.

"The last time we had any contact with Mr. (James P.) Bouchard was in 2012," Conners said regarding Esmark's chairman and CEO. "As far as I know right now, there is nothing on the radar. We presently have 10 people working in there on fire watch."

Article Photos

ESMARK CONCERNS — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, left, expressed concerns about the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill in Yorkville that is now owned by Esmark Inc., while Yorkville Councilman Thomas Magnone looked on during a discussion held Tuesday in Yorkville. — Casey Junkins

The Yorkville facility is the only one of the former Wheeling-Pitt plants sold out of the RG Steel bankruptcy to an owner who expressed intentions to restart the mill. Frontier Industrial purchased the large Mingo Junction plant that still sits quiet for $20 million; in Steubenville, the rusting structures of the former Wheeling-Pitt plant are now mostly gone; and Wheeling businessmen Quay Mull and Joseph N. Gompers purchased the Martins Ferry mill land for $2 million.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined 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. Conners said the average employee wage in the Esmark deal is set at $21.64 per hour, down from about $26 per hour under the union's last RG agreement.

Since then, however, Esmark has not done anything in Yorkville, Conners said. Johnson said he did not believe Kasich would have joined Bouchard at the plant for the announcement if he did not feel strongly that Esmark planned to get the facility up an running.

"I am going to reach out to Mr. Bouchard myself," Johnson told council members and USW officials. "I am going to fight hard for the jobs here."

"We will do whatever we can do," Mayor Blair Closser said. "Our goal is to get 250 people back to work."

Initially, Esmark officials blamed the "fiscal cliff" negotiations that took place between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., in late 2012 as one of the reasons they would be delayed in restarting the Yorkville mill. During the interim, Esmark also cited continued weak domestic demand and pricing pressures in the cold-rolled steel marketplace, the effect of low-priced imports on the U.S. market and continued high inventory levels.

Esmark spokesman Bill Keegan could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However, Bouchard said in a recent prepared statement that the company is exploring options for the Yorkville property.

"We've received multiple inquiries about the mill assets and several offers from potential suitors, so the evaluation process must be completed before we make the decision to restart the mill, sell the assets or explore other strategic options," he said.

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