August 8, 2012
In 1887, the Pennsylvania Steel Co. bought farmland to build a modern steelworks. Now, 125 years later, the new owners are ready to raze the Sparrows Point steel mill and build something else.
The Baltimore County mill was once the biggest employer in the state, but the last few decades have not been kind. Longtime owner Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, and the years after that brought a procession of short-term operators.
The latest, RG Steel, sped into bankruptcy in May, idling the plant and laying off nearly all the approximately 2,000 workers. The company quickly sold the property for $72.5 million — not even a tenth of its price in 2008, the last time it was sold alone.
Hilco Trading and Environmental Liability Transfer, the two companies that together won the bidding, said they hoped to find new operators. But in December, Hilco — which specializes in liquidations — canceled a January auction for the property after selling the most valuable steelmaking asset to a Sparrows Point competitor, reportedly for spare parts.
Local leaders declared the plant dead. Union leaders said the sale blocked the efforts of potential operators to buy the entire facility. Hilco, for its part, insisted it had "seriously considered" all companies with the financial means to make such a purchase.
Its a seismic change for southeastern Baltimore County. Hundreds of the laid-off workers have signed up for retraining to try to switch careers. Local businesses are coping — or not — with the loss of a major customer. And the future of the more than 3,000-acre property, with its water views and toxins, remains to be written.