Keeping traditions alive
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 15:06

photo by Roland Dorsey

by Nicole Rodman

There have been many changes at the Sparrows Point steel mill over the past few years, but one thing remains consistent.
    The “Star of Bethlehem” — the giant star sitting atop the mill’s L blast furnance — shines once more.
    Despite the mill that sits under it undergoing the process of being dismantled, the star continues to herald the holiday season from its perch high above the now-closed facility.
    The “Star of Bethlehem” was first erected in 1978, shortly after the mill’s L blast furnace was built.
    For more than three decades the star has sat above the mill, watching silently as the once-thriving plant struggled to stay afloat.
    The mill’s future was already in doubt when, on May 31, 2012, then-owner RG Steel declared bankruptcy.
    Though hope remained that a new operator could be found, the mill complex was sold to liquidator Hilco Industrial and redeveloper Environmental Liability Transfer for $72.5 million on Aug. 7, 2012.
    Hilco put the property back up for sale that October, but there were no companies willing to restart the mill.
    The end came quietly on Dec. 12, 2012, as reports emerged that Sparrows Point’s cold mill complex had been sold for parts.
    It has been a year since the cold mill was sold and, while the “Star of Bethlehem” shines again, it shines over a mill that is gradually being picked apart.
    In the last year, new owner Hilco has been in the process of dismantling the mill — selling off equipment and scrap metal, removing asbestos and demolishing buildings.
    When contacted for comment last week, Hilco chief marketing officer Gary Epstein said he was unable to provide specific details regarding ongoing work at the mill site.
    He did, however, indicate that all is going according to plan.
    “At this time, we are on schedule based on our plan and we are continuing to work through this expansive site,” Epstein said, while adding, “We will be working on the site for some time to come.”
    As to why Hilco decided to once again light the star atop the now-cold L blast furnace, Epstein characterized the move as one made out of respect for the community and the legacy of the mill.
    “In the spirit of the season and out of respect for the people in the community and the historic nature of the site, we did again light the Star of Bethlehem over the Sparrows Point blast furnace this holiday season,” Epstein said.
    He continued, “We wanted to continue the tradition as we look for ways to preserve the star for the future.”
    While no plans have yet been made regarding the future of the star, Epstein did note that Hilco is “definitely seeking ways to preserve the Star as we recognize and respect the historical significance and emotion associated with it.”
    For former steelworker Dave Polanowski, that emotion runs deep.
    “The star meant a lot to me; it meant a lot to everyone at the Point,” Polanowski told The Eagle last December.
    And, while the past year has been a painful one for those who made their living at the now-closed mill, the shining of the star may provide a bit of comfort to those who bask in its glow.
    As Polanowski reflected, “After thinking about it for a couple of days, it came that the star was showing me peace: peace to now know it is written, it is done; peace to know that we all need to pick up the pieces and use the tools we have to find another place in life to earn a living for us and our families.”