New jobs at shipyard
Thursday, 25 October 2012 09:24

On hand to announce new jobs at the Sparrows Point Shipyard last Thursday were (from left) BB Metals program manager Mike Dunavent, County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., state Del. John Olszewski Jr., U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, state Sen. Norman Stone and Sparrows Point Shipyard owner Vincent Barletta.    photos by Roland Dorsey

Future of mill still in doubt, ideas abound

by Nicole Rodman

In a rare bit of good news for industry at Sparrows Point, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger last Thursday announced the creation of 50 new jobs at the Sparrows Point shipyard.
    The jobs come as the result of a new government contract awarded to Sparrows Point-based BB Metals, a company specializing in dismantling retired ships.
    Under the terms of the  newly-won contract, workers will disassemble a World War II-era ship known as the USNS Range Sentinel. 
    Once the company breaks down the ship, it will sell the scrap steel.
    Built in 1944, the 455-foot ship initially known as the USS Sherburne was present in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender in 1945.
    In 1971, the ship was rechristened as the USNS Range Sentinel before being retired for good in 1997.
    Dismantling the ship will take more than 50 workers, most of whom are employees of BB Metals.
    As Ruppersberger noted, his office has been working with BB Metals and the government to secure the contract.
    If BB Metals continues to secure contracts dismantling ships, Ruppersberger explained last week, as many as 300 new jobs could be created at the Sparrows Point shipyard.
    The new jobs would likely be given to local steelworkers and ironworkers.
    “We’re doing whatever we can to create jobs,” Ruppersberger explained to the assembled crowd.
    While BB is using mainly in-house employees for this project, BB Metals program manager Mike Dunavent vowed to hire former RG steel employees and other local laborers for future contracts.
    Also on hand to announce the new contract were state Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. and state Del. John Olszewski Jr.
    For his part, Stone touted the benefits of the project, both as a way to create jobs and recycle old steel.
    “Anytime we talk about creating new jobs, it’s a great thing,” Stone noted.
    Del. Olszewski spoke briefly on the potential still present in the steel mill complex.
    “There is too much potential in Sparrows Point — in the land and in the talent pool — to let it go to waste,” he said.
    While near the steel mill property, Ruppersberger took the opportunity to reassert his commitment to finding a new operator for the Sparrows Point mill.
    As he explained, “We are not giving up on steel yet. We are working with international buyers.
    “In the last 10 years, we haven’t had steel companies [operating the mill], we’ve had finance companies,” he noted.
    As Ruppersberger explained, the mill needs an established steelmaking company with access to raw materials if it is to reopen as a viable steel mill.
    As Councilman Olszewski added, the mill’s recently-added “state-of the-art” cold roll mill should also serve to attract potential operators.
    New mill owners Hilco Trading, which owns the equipment, and Environmental Liability Transfer  (ELT), which owns the land, are also open to the idea of selling the mill back to a steelmaker.
    At the end of September, just days after finalizing their $72.5 million purchase of the Sparrows Point steel mill, Hilco and ELT placed the mill back up for sale. The companies will accept offers until Dec. 21, with an auction being held Jan. 3, if necessary.
    If no interested steelmakers come forward, Hilco and ELT will move forward with plans to clean up and redevelop the site.
    In its Oct. 17 issue, Baltimore’s City Paper tackled the issue of what to do with the mill if steel does not return to Sparrows Point.
    In a cover story entitled  “Point of Departure,” reporter Edward Ericson Jr. laid out a number of proposed visions for the land on which the Sparrows Point steel mill currently sits.
    In the article, Baltimore-based architect Jim Wheeler of Ayres Saint Gross design agency proposes cleaning the property with toxin-neutralizing plants and then turning part of the land into a recreational site, such as a park or cruise terminal.
    While most environmental advocates call for sealing the land with resin and a concrete cap, many agree that a recreational green space would be ideal.
    In an article in the July 2, 2012 issue of the Eagle, local environmental activist Russell Donnelly similarly indicated that he would like to see the land used as a tourist spot, such as a park or cruise port.
    In the piece, Donnelly also floated the idea of the land being used to develop green (environmentally-friendly) businesses.
    Baltimore architecture firm Brown Craig Turner also laid out a proposal for last week’s City Paper article.
    In their highly-speculative plan, the architects propose turning the southern shore of the mill into an amusement park.
    In both firms’ plans, part of the mill land would be used to expand the Port of Baltimore.
    A number of local political leaders also support he potential expansion of the port to Sparrows Point.
    According to a report in the May 13, 2010 Eagle, as early as 2010, then-candidate for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz signaled his openness to port expansion on the steel mill property.
    This past June, Kamenetz announced the Sparrows Point Partnership, a committee designed to study ways to attract new businesses to the Sparrows Point peninsula.
    One of the main proposals being considered by the group is the expansion of port operations into Sparrows Point.
    Delegate John Olszewski Jr. has also signaled his support for port expansion at Sparrows Point.
    In his June 21 Eagle column, “John’s Journal,” Delegate Olszewski laid out a number of ideas  for the future of the port.
    He wrote, “There are certainly plenty of alternatives, and we should explore them all: having the peninsula serve as a hub for renewable energy production, industrial assembly, rail and transportation infrastructure or, of course, expansion of the Port of Baltimore.”
    But, for now, many are holding out hope that the mill property will soon return to manufacturing steel.
    With less than two months left until the Dec. 21 bidding deadline, the future of the long-suffering mill complex should be clearer by the end of the year.
    In the meantime, workers, residents and interested parties can only watch and wait for the final outcome.