Bethlehem Steel planning to sell rod mill equipment

August 04, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

The very thin hope that hundreds of jobs might reappear at the rod mill at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant has been eliminated with the company's confirmation that it plans to sell the mill's equipment to foreign companies.

"There are buyers that have been interested. I believe they are offshore," Curtis H. Barnette, Bethlehem's chairman and chief executive officer, said yesterday. "The sale has not been completed. But [there are] ongoing negotiations for the sale of these assets."

The rod mill, which had 340 workers, was part of the much larger Baltimore County steel mill that employs 5,500.

The names of the interested companies were not disclosed.

Mr. Barnette's comments came as a surprise to the head of the local union that had represented workers at the closed mill.

"I didn't know they had given up," said Donald E. Kellner, president of Local 2609 of the United Steelworkers of America. Even though he knew there was little interest by other companies in reopening the rod mill, he still was hopeful. "I was hoping in my wildest dreams," he said.

Bethlehem closed the mill in August 1992 after it could not find a buyer for the entire bar, rod and wire division. The division also included operations in Johnstown, Pa., and Lackawanna, N.Y., which also were closed.

The Sparrows Point mill made steel rods that were sold to other companies and were drawn down into thinner wires. The wires can be used in cord for tires, musical wires and screws and other fasteners.

After a failed attempt to sell the entire operation to an Indian company in early 1993, Bethlehem reached an agreement in December last year to sell the Johnstown and Lackawanna operations as an ongoing business to New York-based Veritas Capital Inc.

That sale may be completed in the coming days, Mr. Barnette said. "It could close today, it could close tomorrow," he said. "They are literally in Philadelphia in the final [stages]."

After the tentative agreement was reached last year, the assets of the remaining rod mill at Sparrows Point were turned over to the company's finance department to be sold, he said.

Part of the rod mill area will be used to store steel plates, which now are left in the open, according to Duane R. Dunham, president of Bethlehem's Sparrows Point Division.

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