Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:41

photo by Roland Dorsey

No date set for L furnace implosion

by Nicole Rodman

For the past two weeks, rumors have swirled, claiming that the implosion of the L blast furnace at the Sparrows Point steel mill was set to occur on March 16 but was postponed due to weather.
    According to Hilco chief marketing officer Gary Epstein, however, no date has been set for the demolition.
    “There is not yet a specific date scheduled to take down the L blast furnace at Sparrows Point,” Epstein told The Eagle last week.
    According to Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) spokesman Jay Apperson, the plant’s smaller Basic Oxygen Furnace shop is scheduled for demolition on Friday, March 28.
    The L blast furnace building, Apperson noted, is not set to be demolished until late summer.
    Attempts to reach Epstein for further comment on the demolition of the Basic Oxygen Furnace were unsuccessful as of press time.
    Epstein did note that other smaller-scale demolition is already occuring at the site.
    “This is an active site with plenty of demolition going on all the time,” he said.
    According to Epstein, Hilco has been working with local county agencies,  including the Baltimore County Fire Department, to secure permits and permissions related to ongoing and upcoming demolition activities.

A titan goes dark
    Sparrows Point steel mill’s L blast furnace was built in 1978 and quickly became an iconic part of the Sparrows Point landscape.
    The furnace, large enough to handle 9,000 tons of metal per day, was a critical part of steelmaking operations at the plant for decades.
    However, the furnace — and everything else at the plant — went dark after former owner RG Steel closed the mill for good following a declaration of bankruptcy in May 2012.
    The plant was sold to liquidator Hilco Industrial and redevelopment corporation Environmental Liability Transfer that August.
    Since that time, Hilco has sold off many of the plant’s assets, including the cold mill, which was sold to Nucor Corp. in December 2012.
    In the last year, Hilco has also begun demolishing many of the structures on the site in an effort to clear the land for new use.

Environmental oversight
    MDE has been onsite many times conducting inspections as demolition has continued.
    As Apperson explained, MDE asked demolition company MCM Management Corp. to submit a plan to control the dust generated by demolition activities.
    “MDE’s Air Quality Compliance Program required MCM to prepare a plan for controlling dust during their overall demolition process,” Apperson said. “That was submitted in August.”
    According to Apperson, MDE also requested specific plans for the demolition of the Basic Oxygen Furnace and the L blast furnace.
    MCM submitted the plan for the Basic Oxygen Furnace demolition earlier this month.
    Apperson also noted that MDE will be on hand to observe Friday’s demolition of the Basic Oxygen Furnace.
Asbestos concerns
    MDE has also been on the scene observing as MCM has removed asbestos from many of the mill structures prior to demolition.
    In a letter sent to MCM and the site’s owners last December, MDE cited alleged violations concerning the handling of asbestos at the site.
    “In regards to asbestos, the alleged violations include the failure to comply with regulations governing the removal and handling of asbestos-containing waste material,” Apperson told The Eagle in February.
    “Our inspectors confirmed the presence of asbestos in the waste from one of the demolished buildings,” he explained. “As such, this waste will be handled as asbestos-containing material in its entirety.”
    Apperson was quick to note that the asbestos  present does not pose a risk to surrounding neighborhoods.
 “This alleged violation addresses on-site, worker safety issues that do not cause a health risk in the neighboring community,” he said.

The fate of the star
    While the demolition of the L blast furnace itself will be a blow to many of those who lived and worked in the shadow of the steel mill, many observers are also concerned about what will happen to the Star of Bethlehem that still sits atop the tall furnace.
    The “Star of Bethlehem” was first mounted on top of the L blast furnace shortly after it was built in 1978.
    It has been lit each holiday season since that time.
    While the mill now sits dark, Hilco has continued to light the star each year, a task Epstein characterized as “challenging, a little dangerous and not inexpensive, as it requires sending somebody up to manually change the bulbs and replace some of the wiring.”
    According to Epstein, Hilco is “taking great care to respect and preserve all historical and significant objects including the Star of Bethlehem on top of the L Blast Furnace.”
    Getting the star down, Epstein pointed out, will not be an easy task.
    “We are currently working through the best way to take the Star down to preserve it,” Epstein explained.
    He added, “Given its size and its fragile state, it may require thousands of dollars of work just to preserve it before removing it, likely by helicopter.”
    Plans on what to do with the star once it is retrieved from the furnace are still pending.
Plans for the future
    While Hilco has been working to sell off assets and clear the steel mill site, co-owner Environmental Liability Transfer  (ELT) is tasked with remediating the site for future use.
    The Maryland Port Administration is currently in negotiations with ELT to obtain Coke Point (at the southern tip of the Sparrows Point peninsula) for use as a dredge containment facility and eventual marine terminal.
    The Sparrows Point Partnership, appointed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, released a report last May highlighting potential ideas for future industry on the site.
    While the future of the site remains to be seen, the ongoing demolition at  the Sparrows Point steel mill site marks the end of an era for many who lived, worked and/ or played at or near the once-thriving mill.