RG Steel blast furnace taken down Sunday

WITH VIDEO FOOTAGE OF BLAST FURNACE RAZING

Tribune Chronicle file photo / Virginia Shank
Terry Thorpe and his son, Travis Thorpe, in September 2016 catch a final glimpse of the blast furnace at the former RG Steel mill on the southwest side of Warren. Terry Thorpe worked at the plant 43 years as a crane operator.

Tribune Chronicle file photo / Virginia Shank Terry Thorpe and his son, Travis Thorpe, in September 2016 catch a final glimpse of the blast furnace at the former RG Steel mill on the southwest side of Warren. Terry Thorpe worked at the plant 43 years as a crane operator.

WARREN — Terry Thorpe said he feels a bit cheated that he was not given the opportunity to see the area’s last remaining blast furnace brought down Sunday afternoon.

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO FOOTAGE OF BLAST FURNACE RAZING:

BLAST FURNACE

“It’s disappointing,” said Thorpe, who spent 43 years working as a crane operator at the mill on the southwest side of Warren.

“I mean, we all knew it was coming down. It was inevitable … But I would have liked to have been there, as I’m sure others would have liked to have been there.”

Thorpe said it was “especially disconcerting” that the tear-down, which marked the official end of integrated steelmaking in the Mahoning Valley, came on a Sunday and at a time when much of the community was focused on the funeral of fallen Girard police officer Justin Leo, who was shot and killed in the line of duty Oct. 21.

“You could say I’m disgruntled, them taking it down without telling anybody, and taking it down when they did,” he said. “It was an important part of our history, to this community. It’s a letdown. I’m just sad they handled it that way. We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

One spectator, who asked for his name not to be published, said he was among the few people present to watch the blast furnace fall. He and others in the community who had heard about the demolition plan said they were told the company was trying to keep it quiet and attract as little attention as possible.

Company leaders were not available Monday to comment.

Patty Grilli, who watched from nearby Dover Street SW, said between eight and 10 men were in attendance.

“When it was going down, a couple of people were talking about how they had worked there,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. At one point, there were some cars and trucks lined up, but no one really knew when it would take place, and they left. There was a lot of just waiting around.”

Liz Cooper, a native of Vienna now living in Youngstown, said she had avoided the area along Main Avenue the past several months, knowing what was coming. But Sunday evening she drove by, took some photographs and gazed at the empty space where the towering blast furnace, known as Trumbull Cliffs, had stood as a focal point of the skyline above that area of city.

“I had heard about it from a few people, but heard that hardly anyone was there other than a handful of steelworkers and people from the demo crew,” she said. “How sad is that?

“You would have thought such an important and significant part of history would have been recognized better, with some honor and dignity, with more respect.

“It’s just sad people really weren’t given a chance to say goodbye. It makes my heart sink to think about it. There should have been more fanfare. It was deserving of that,” Cooper said.

Cooper said her family has been involved in the steel industry, directly and indirectly, for four generations. She has been documenting the deconstruction of the plant, which had gone through several owners and various name changes over the years.

“It’s important to preserve as much history as we can and this was a significant part of our history,” she said.

About 1,200 workers lost their jobs when the mill was permanently idled in May 2012. BDM purchased it for $17 million in September 2012 after RG Steel, the former owner and the nation’s fourth-largest steel producer at the time, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier that year.

Charles J. Betters of C.J. Betters Enterprises, BDM head, had said he would not operate the mill himself because his background was not in manufacturing but rather in real estate, demolition and selling steel industry waste used in highway and construction projects.

Instead, BDM has attempted to market the facility.

An auction was held in spring 2013 and that fall demolition of several buildings on what is known as the mill’s “cold side,” southwest of Pine Avenue, began.

The blast furnace stood as the final piece of the century-old mill that for decades contributed to the economic stability of the region. It first opened in 1922 by a company then known as Trumbull Cliffs Iron Co.

The process of deconstructing it started last summer, but was put on hold several times. However, demolition work resumed Aug. 2.

Initially, the demolition company, MCM Management, talked about an implosion. However, concerns about safety and nearby structures brought pause to those plans and a piece-by-piece deconstruction was initiated.

Earlier this month, Tara Cioffi, environmental health / air pollution director, Mahoning-Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency, said she did not know how long it would take MCM to complete the work and that the timeline could be revised at any time. She said her office had received notification that work was being done until August 2018.

vshank@tribtoday.com

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