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Beaver zinc plant to remain open 60 days longer than expected

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By Tim Puko

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 6:48 p.m.

Workers at a Beaver County zinc smelter are getting at least an extra 60 days before their layoffs take effect as its owner battles continued delays on opening a new plant.

Crafton-based Horsehead Holding Corp. sent an official notice to its Beaver County workforce, 510 people, that its plant in Potter will stay open until March 1. That's extended from an initial Dec. 31 closing date, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry. It was not clear when Horsehead sent the notice, but the new date is posted on the department's website.

Work had to stop because of the extreme cold weather at its new site in North Carolina, spokesman Ali Alavi said. The company had previously said the plant was to start production in 2013, but it's still not open, Alavi said. He denied that it's another setback for the transition.

“Everything's on track, timing-wise,” he said Monday. “It was never going to be a pinpoint moment in time when (the Beaver County closing) happened. It was always planned to be more of a gradual thing.”

Alavi said he was not sure when the company informed workers of the extension and did not have that information immediately available. He declined to give some details ahead of the company's quarterly earnings statement coming Feb. 25.

The company had previously said the new site in Rutherford County, N.C., will cost $40 million more than previous estimates of $450 million. It's still having a lot of testing done on its equipment before it can be started, Alavi said Monday. The induction furnace will likely be the first thing to go on.

“There's a lot of piping running through that facility. So you want to make sure it's all running right before running feedstock through it,” he said.

The company has said workers from Pennsylvania will not be able to transfer to the North Carolina site, but what happens there will determine when the Potter smelter closes. Horsehead shut down its refinery there in December, but has kept five of its six smelter furnaces running until the new plant opens, Alavi said. He was not sure when those operations would close and the remaining workers will be laid off.

The chemical arm of Royal Dutch Shell plc has an option to buy the site and is considering it for a “cracker” plant that will turn ethane into plastic. The company has been evaluating whether to proceed with the project for more than a year.

Horsehead's delay has no relationship with Shell's plans,” Alavi said. Shell is preparing to start some demolition it had agreed late last year to do at the Beaver County site, he added.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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