One of the Sparrows Point owners broke its silence on the bidding process Thursday to rebut charges that it blocked potential operators from bidding on the steel mill, saying it "seriously considered" all companies with the means to make such a purchase.
Hilco Trading, which bought the Baltimore County site with another company at an August bankruptcy auction, had set this Friday as the deadline for bids on all or portions of the property. But last week, the Illinois-based liquidator sold the facility's most valuable mill to steelmaker Nucor, reportedly for spare parts — ending all hope that the plant would be reopened.
The United Steelworkers Local 9477 in Sparrows Point told members this week that a Pittsburgh company — saying it had backing from a foreign steelmaker — tried to bid last week but was informed the plant was no longer for sale. Union leaders said another potential operator told them it too was trying to put together a deal and had expected to have until this week to do so.
Hilco's chief marketing officer, Gary Epstein, said in a statement that Hilco marketed the property "extensively" to try to find operators for Sparrows Point.
"The rumors that Hilco rejected or dismissed any offers or interested parties to acquire part or all of the Sparrows Point Mill without review or consideration are simply unfounded," he said in the statement. "All interested parties were put through a fair due diligence process and all qualified parties were seriously considered. … Through our private company process every potential prospect had to meet very specific criteria including the ability to get financing for such a large deal."
No steelmakers showed up to bid at the August auction, though a Dallas-based steel distributor did try to put in a higher offer after the fact. Workers had hoped that the apparent lack of interest was simply insufficient time — the auction was held 10 weeks after then-owner RG Steel filed for bankruptcy protection.
After closing on the deal, Hilco set a November deadline for initial expressions of interest in the plant. The actual bid deadline was more than a week away when news broke that Sparrows Point's cold mill had been sold.
"The one thing I know that didn't happen was the bid process didn't go till the 21st, and that's a fact," said Joe Rosel, president of the local Steelworkers union. "Other than that, I only know what potential bidders told me … their experience was, because I wasn't at the bargaining table."
The state Department of Business and Economic Development heard from one of the interested operators and connected the company to Hilco, said Karen Glenn Hood, a spokeswoman for the state agency. But the agency wasn't a party to any negotiations or bid attempts that followed, she said.