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U.S. Steel committed to $1.2B project

| Friday, April 2, 2010

U.S. Steel has said it put a $1.2 billion reconstruction of coke batteries at its Clairton Plant "on hold," citing a downturn in the economy and a decline in steel demand.

On Thursday, however, a company executive said there has been some activity there, though not a full-blown resumption of that project.

"It's not something we want to let go," Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning David Lohr said at U.S. Steel's Irvin Plant, which with Clairton and Braddock's Edgar Thomson Plant make up U.S. Steel's Mon Valley Works.

Lohr addressed the Clairton situation after acting as master of ceremonies during a visit to the West Mifflin plant by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Philadelphia.

He hailed cooperation between his company and the United Steelworkers, praising their "shared sacrifice" in a time when U.S. Steel had to lay off more than 10,000 people.

Lohr blamed a reduced level of production and "very low customer demand" for what is produced at the Mon Valley Works.

"Their cooperation has had an important role in our ability to take advantage of what appears to be the first steps in an economic recovery," Lohr said.

Some have seized upon what Lohr called first steps as a sign of progress for Allegheny County's biggest private construction project since the building of Pittsburgh International Airport.

Last week in McKeesport, county Executive Dan Onorato said U.S. Steel "reiterated to me that it will happen." Onorato also pointed to signs that the economy is starting to pick up again.

Lohr has roots in the Mon Valley.

"I started out in 1974 at the National Tube Works in McKeesport," he recalled.

During Thursday's event, he noted the presence of "an alumnus of Irvin" who started out three decades ago in the Mon Valley's mills.

"It's just like coming home," state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said at the plant where since 2006 he's been on a leave of absence from a managerial job.

That leave appears likely to continue as Kortz is unopposed for renomination to the state House in the May primary and no Republican has filed to oppose him in the fall.

Kortz accompanied Specter on two visits to Irvin.

The first was March 2, prior to a Specter meeting in McKeesport with area public officials and a month after the former challenger for Specter's job endorsed the senator's bid for a sixth term.

"Bill and I have worked together (and) shared common interests," Specter told workers and company officials gathered at Irvin.

Kortz also was greeted during Specter's visit by a 10-year co-worker.

"I was a solution tender," Arnold Garner of West Mifflin recalled. "We were in the lead-coated steel (operation)."

That operation no longer exists, but Garner remains involved in galvanizing steel at Irvin Plant, as an expediter in another division.

Others Lohr introduced included an aide to state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, and Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi, who also is a safety coordinator for central maintenance at Irvin.

"The majority of the workers here are Democrats," said Lattanzi, who started out as a pipe fitter and welder and has worked at Irvin for 20 years. "They want to know what Arlen Specter has to say for the blue-collar workers."

"I hope he accomplishes most of his goals," electrician Al Bernardinelli of Bentleyville said after Specter's speech. "He's a fighter."

"He always looks out for labor organizations," said Ryan Kieffer of North Versailles Township, who works with heating, ventilation and air conditioning at Irvin. "He's a good man."

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