Rumors unconfirmed on steel mill's leaving

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By Cindy Simpson

At least two metal industry trade magazines are reporting an anonymous source that ArcelorMittal — formerly Bayou Steel — will be closing its Harriman steel mill and moving operations to the LaPlace, La., plant.
They are also reporting an anonymous source from the company denying the remark.
The official word? There apparently isn’t one.
“We are currently in the quiet period leading up to our third quarter results announcement on Oct. 26,” said company spokeswoman Katie Patterson by e-mail Tuesday. “We will update the market on operations at that time,”
Local officials were unaware of any plans to close the plant, which employs 95.
Roane Alliance CEO Leslie Henderson also said she had not heard anything about the operation leaving.
“We periodically keep up with our industries” Henderson said. “That is not to say they tell us everything.”
“We’d always hate to lose an industry,” she added. “And those are good-paying jobs. Those are difficult jobs, rough jobs. It is hard work and not pleasant surroundings, which is why they pay better-than-the-average wage,” Henderson said.
Henderson said she had heard ArcelorMittal momentarily shut down production in late summer because of too much inventory.
Still, she’s optimistic the rumors are false.
“I’d be surprised if they closed down,” Henderson said.
She added, however, that recession sometimes faces companies to make hard decisions involving consolidating operations.
“It would not be out of the total realm of possibilities,” Henderson said.
Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said he was unaware of any plans by ArcelorMittal to move.
Harriman Utility Board, which provides electric service to the plant, just entered into a new agreement with it effective Oct. 1, according to HUB manager Chuck Flora.
“They just came in a couple weeks ago and signed a new contract,” Flora said.
Flora said he had heard several months ago the company had considered moving part of the operation to another plant, but the move would be too costly.
“It was my understanding they determined it was cheaper to keep the plant open and running,” Flora said.
While the company or utility can cancel the electric service contract after notice, the steel mill would still be required to pay a minimum electric payment for 12 months, according to Flora.
Flora said the biggest impact would not be the loss of the company as an electric customer, but the impact to all utilities if the operation closed and its employees moved elsewhere for employment.
The employees pay utilities and shop and patronize area businesses that are also utility customers, Flora said.