Bethlehem mill could reopen by Feb.

November 27, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

The closed rod mill at Bethlehem Corp.'s Sparrows Point steel mill could reopen and begin operating as soon as February.

T. N. Ramaswamy, director of finance for Ispat Mexicana S.A. de C.V., which has agreed to buy the closed mill, said his company hopes to complete the purchase as early as January and to reopen the operations a few weeks later.

But, he cautioned, there could be intervening problems. "We have to look at a lot of details," he said.

The number of people who would be employed at the rod mill has not been determined, but Ispat, part of the Ispat Group of Calcutta, India, plans to hire union workers and to negotiate a contract with the United Steelworkers of America, Mr. Ramaswamy said.

This week, Bethlehem said it had signed a letter of intent to sell its bar, rod and wire division to Ispat for an undisclosed amount. The division includes the Sparrows Point rod mill, which had a work force of 350 when it closed Aug. 14. The deal included steel mills in Johnstown, Pa., and a bar mill in Lackawanna, N.Y.

David Wilson, district director for the United Steelworkers of America, said the proposed sale is good news. "It's a dead mill now, and if this brings it back to life, it's great."

He said he was confident that the union would reach an agreement with the prospective new owners.

The rod mill here has the capacity to produce 430,000 tons of steel rod a year, ranging in diameter from 7/32 inch to 1/2 inch, a Bethlehem spokesman said. The steel rod is sold to companies that produce wire used in items such as tires, musical instruments and brake linings.

Ispat plans to invest in new equipment to allow the rod mill to handle larger steel slabs, which are fashioned into rods, according to B. C. Agarwal, a director of Ispat Mexicana. The amount of investment has not been determined, he said.

He said the company's first priority would be to modernize the Johnstown, Pa., operation, which employed 1,950 people before closed. The company said it plans to spend $100 million to modernize that plant.

Ispat Mexicana is part of the international Ispat operation, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The company is owned by the Mittal family of Calcutta. The group of companies has annual steelmaking capacity of 4.5 million tons.

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