Debate over future of Georgetown steel mill site continues at final community meeting

Debate over future of Georgetown steel mill site continues at final community meeting

GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) - While the city of Georgetown works to figure out a long-term plan for the steel mill site, the local steelworkers union president said the short-term future is already being figured out and it would involve the mill's reopening.

"We have a labor contract between the new company and I keep referring to it as the new company because there's no doubt in my mind that we will be opening up the steel mill," said James Sanderson, USW Local 7898 president.

The city held three community meetings over the last week, where people were given the opportunity to ask questions about the planning process for the future of the site. Many of the questions revolved around jobs.

"The ones that are really, really concerned about the well-being of this community, they're turning out and the ones that are turning out are the ones that are much in favor of jobs, jobs, jobs," Sanderson said.

Paul Gardner, Georgetown city administrator, said everyone who attended the meetings had a valid opinion.

"We've heard all ends of the spectrum, from turn the power switch back on and start making steel to let's get the wrecking ball out and let's start the project," Gardner said.

City leaders in Georgetown said they want to provide jobs at the steel mill site, but different kinds of employment that will motivate younger generations to stay in the area decades from now.

"It's about us creating that environment, a live-work-play place that will absolutely unite the city of Georgetown," Gardner said.

Sanderson said jobs could come back to the steel mill site much sooner and then the city could still use its Urban Land Institute plan if the mill shuts down again.

"Twenty to 25 years from now is too long to gamble with people's jobs and their livelihood when we have the opportunity to put instant jobs on the ground here in Georgetown, ready to work," he said.

Sanderson said the company isn't being disclosed right now, but the labor contract is one of two contracts necessary to open up the steel mill again.

"It shows me point blank this is a serious company that is wanting to buy our plant," he said. "They see the benefits of our plant."

He added the new president is the reason for the interest.

"If it hadn't been for Donald Trump getting elected and wanting to change the policies of trade, unfair trade, we would not be reopening our plant because they know for a fact that the tariffs that will be implemented are going to benefit the American manufacturers," Sanderson said.

However, city leaders said they, along with the Urban Land Institute panel, don't think having a steel mill running at the site is the best use for it.

"We need to be looking out 50 years from now and saying did we make a good call in this period in time in Georgetown?" Gardner said.

The city administrator said city and county leaders met with ArcelorMittal Friday. According to Gardner, the company acknowledged the steel mill has several suitors and there could be an announcement in the near future about a potential buyer, but they were told no contract has been signed.

Sanderson said, in addition to the labor contract that he said has been signed, the new company will need to sign another one for the property with ArcelorMittal.

A letter from South Carolina Sen. Ronnie A. Sabb, District 32, to Mayor Jack Scoville was presented at Tuesday's meeting. It thanked city leaders for giving the public the opportunity to voice their opinions through the public meetings.

The letter goes on to say: "My position is that to the extent a viable company is interested in reopening the steel mill, the opportunity should be extended to that company without interference but rather with our support. It's clear that there are efforts on the national level to allow American steel mill companies a greater opportunity to succeed. Our community may be poised to be a major benefactor of those efforts. Consequently, we should undergird the efforts to create good-paying jobs with benefits. I am confident that our leaders will join with our community to promote that which progressively improves the quality of life in Georgetown and the surrounding area."

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