Kasich Visits Idled Rolling Mill

YORKVILLE – Gov. John Kasich hinted Friday that Esmark Steel’s plans to reopen an idled cold-rolling mill in Yorkville could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Esmark Chairman and CEO Jim Bouchard said the Kasich administration was instrumental in closing the $6.5 million deal for the Yorkville mill, working with his company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a remediation plan that addresses unresolved chemical spills that former owner RG Steel neglected to correct two years ago.

In addition to the Yorkville mill, which will be known as Ohio Cold Rolling Co., Bouchard also acquired a 50 percent ownership stake in the nearby Ohio Coatings Co. tin plating facility, partnering with South Korea’s TCC Steel.

Both mills were acquired from bankrupt RG Steel, which also sold its property in Steubenville to River Rail Development LLC, a division of Wheeling-based Strauss Industries, and its Mingo Junction plant to New York-based salvage company Frontier Industrial.

Asked whether his staff had been involved in discussions about the future of either of those properties, Kasich said, “We know all about those properties.”

“The Steubenville property, to my understanding, is going to see good things happen there with the (new owner) being able to come in and perhaps lease some of the more valuable parts of that,” the governor said. “It’s another thing our Ohio EPA had to be involved with, to make sure we can clear the hurdles. It’s good news it’s not like we hit a grand slam; we’re getting singles, maybe a double here and there, but we’ve got to do a lot more.”

Kasich, meanwhile, credited Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally with “coming to the rescue” after legacy environmental issues threatened to derail Bouchard’s acquisition of the Yorkville plant.

“He’s not a pushover. If you do something bad to the environment, he’s going to call you on it,” Kasich said. “But he also has common sense. He was able to take authority over this operation … out of the hands of the federal EPA into the hands of Ohio EPA. As a result, we can have more common sense, more active development here, and they’re still going to clean things up.”

The governor told workers and dignitaries gathered outside the plant Friday that “there’s no reason we can’t be optimistic about the future.” He said at a minimum, it means work for 165 idled steelworkers at Yorkville alone, “but I think the numbers will be bigger than that.”

“This is a good day,” he said. “People will be people coming back to work, more people I think, than they’ve already announced. … It’s a great start, and it’s good news for us. There’s no reason we can’t be optimistic about the future.”

He stressed that state and local leaders need to figure out how to maximize the Ohio River’s development potential.

“It’s going take folks with some really creative thinking, but it’s important with what we’re going to see from oil and gas and the companies that spin off from that,” he said. “It’s just going to take time.”

Now that the Yorkville plant is in the Esmark stable, Bouchard said he’s planning to invest another $15 million to $20 million to get it up and running.

“Everybody I talked to this morning basically said I was out of my mind,” he admitted. “The state of the steel business globally and here in the U.S. is bad, and here we are committing $20 million-plus to start up the Yorkville cold mill. Do people think I’m nuts? Yes. But I think we’ve got a good plan. I think the workers are up to it. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re up to the challenge.”

“I think all the positives will outweigh (conditions) at this point in time in the steel market,” he added. “But it would be a heck of a lot easier if the steel market was humming along.”