In recent weeks, the roller coaster ride of the past few years at the Sparrows Point steel plant continued as the plant’s most recent owner, RG Steel, announced sweeping layoffs and filed for bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court.
Needless to say, my heart goes out to the workers and families that are impacted by these decisions – and anyone needing help navigating state and county support structures should waste no time in contacting my office.
While there is certainly plenty of blame to go around, including minimum funding from backers of the RG venture as well as global market conditions and a domestic steel surplus, what continues to need to be our focus is a long-term vision for the entire Sparrows Point peninsula.
For example, a plan could include a comprehensive strategy for finding a buyer
who has access to natural resources, but who also understands other aspects of the global marketplace and is willing to make long-overdue investments in the property and its machinery.
Given that a future buyer is likely to get an even better bargain on the site
than the last purchaser, there is reason to expect – and even demand – that any new owner commit to invest in making the steel operations at Sparrows Point site as state-of-the-art as any other location in the world.
But while future plans should do everything possible to continue steelmaking at
the site, we must also contemplate other possibilities on the Sparrows Point peninsula. If we can sustain fully integrated steelmaking, what types of related industry can we co-locate around it? While no one wants to see it happen, if making steel were no longer viable at the location, what should the industrial future there look like?
Regardless of specific industry, we must seek the type of high-paying, sustained employment that was once the hallmark of Sparrows Point.
There are certainly plenty of alternatives, and we should explore them all: having the peninsula serve as a hub for renewable energy production, industrial assembly, rail and transportation infrastructure or, of course, expansion of the Port of Baltimore.
In terms of actively planning for the future of the site, I am pleased to have
recently joined County Executive Kamenetz in announcing a Sparrows Point Partnership of sixteen business and private sector leaders charged with developing a plan for the best possible uses of the property at Sparrows Point.
The land certainly has plenty of built-in assets, including easy access to rail and highway transportation, as well as deep-water access and the largest ship graving dock on the East Coast.
Of course, there will be ample opportunities to leverage the Port of Baltimore, the fastest growing major U.S. port, and a major focus of this work group. This is an important, first step forward, but it should be just that – a first step.
While I look forward to this partnership’s work product, I hope they will also look beyond what is possible with the Port to include other industries.
Consideration should be given to ways in which community leaders can be systematically engaged in planning the future of Sparrows Point. Additionally, through this process it is time to get serious about addressing the legacy of environmental challenges that still plague many parts of John the land at Sparrows Point.