WEIRTON - More than three years have passed since ArcelorMittal announced "Project Weirton" - its intention to sell almost 90 percent of its vast property holdings in the city as it focused local operations on finishing tin.
The writing was on the wall at that point. Weirton never again would be home to one of the country's largest fully-integrated steel mills, as it had been for many years.
But with the announcement came hope that some developer could use the roughly 1,700 acres to rebuild Weirton's once-rich industrial heritage.
Photo by Ian Hicks
A sign along Main Street heading north from downtown Weirton proclaims industrial acreage for sale in the city. ArcelorMittal has about 1,700 acres of former Weirton Steel Corp. property sitting idle that it's looking to unload.
In those three years, there's been little progress as the vast majority of Weirton's idle facilities remain under ArcelorMittal control. To this point, the only significant sale has been that of Weirton Steel Corp.'s former general office grounds at Three Springs Drive, now home to a Super Wal-Mart. The family-sustaining industrial jobs envisioned by local leaders have yet to materialize.
Last year, private developer Weirton Energy Inc. announced it was working to acquire the property in order to build a coal liquefaction plant that would employ more than 1,000. But Weirton's new industrial future was put on hold when officials learned one of Weirton Energy's directors was not who he claimed to be.
"Al" Norman, as he identified himself locally, was actually Albion Arlo Norman Jr., convicted in U.S. District Court of more than two dozen counts of financial crimes related to the theft of more than $9.2 million from a cemetery association in New York.
It's been more than three years since Weirton leaders and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced plans to sell the former Weirton Steel properties in town, now owned by ArcelorMittal, to help spur economic development. Has there been any positive movement in that project?
Yes and no. A firm known as Weirton Energy last year expressed interest in the properties to build a proposed $2 billion coal to liquids facility, but that project has fallen apart for various reasons. The properties continue to sit empty and there doesn't appear to be any prospects, at least in the short term. Some former mill property on Three Springs Drive has been sold and is now home to a Wal-Mart.
ArcelorMittal officials said the setback has not stopped them from pursuing their goals.
"Recent events surrounding Weirton Energy do not impact our redevelopment efforts," said company spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford.
She called the sale of ArcelorMittal's idle facilities "an ongoing process" and declined to comment on any outside interest in the properties, citing "confidentiality requirements."
It has been suggested the environmental state of the facilities could be a barrier to their sale, because the mill in any transaction could be forced to shoulder cleanup costs. Holdford said such cleanup obligations are not impacting the process.
"We are continuing to address any environmental obligations," Holdford said. "We are moving forward with potential sales in a manner consistent with the goals of Project Weirton."
According to United Steelworkers Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis, whose union represents many of the 900 or so employees remaining at the Weirton tin mill, a stipulation of the union's contract with the company gives the union the authority to nix any potential deal for the land.
Glyptis previously said he would rather see the property used in such a manner as the former coal-to-liquid proposal, rather than sold piecemeal to businesses that rely on low-wage labor.
Asked if that contract stipulation has hampered ArcelorMittal's efforts in any way, Holdford simply replied, "We are working in cooperation with the USW and are both committed to Project Weirton redevelopment efforts."
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said during the 2008 announcement of the property's sale that the decision "is great and welcome news for all of us who have been looking to attract jobs and investments to the Northern Panhandle."
"While this economic renaissance in Weirton won't happen overnight, I'm confident that working together we'll be able to find the right projects that will benefit from our hard working and productive work force," Rockefeller said.