WSAZ - Blogs - At the Capitol

Apr 2, 2012- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin Signs Bill to Help Century Aluminum Reopen

By: Michael Hyland
By: Michael Hyland

Another major hurdle has been cleared in the quest to get hundreds of people back to work.

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Another major hurdle has been cleared in the quest to get hundreds of people back to work.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed a bill into law Monday that creates tax credits helping the company to pay its electric bills in the event aluminum prices fall to a certain level.

Century Aluminum shut down its smelter in Ravenswood in 2009.

At the time, 650 people lost their jobs. The company also terminated health benefits to its retirees the next year.

Fast forward more than two years later: new senior management has taken over and an agreement has been reached to restore some of those health benefits, leading to state leaders overwhelmingly approving the tax credits.

"We've not had any hope ever since it closed down. We're going on the third year now. It's had a big impact on me. I worked out there 38 years," says Franklin McCoy, a Century retiree.

Retirees camped out in front of the plant to make a point about wanting their benefits restored. They returned to that campsite Monday with a much more optimistic attitude about the Century’s future.

"As you saw by the vote of the legislature, basically unanimous, how important these jobs are to Jackson County,” says Tomblin.

Ravenswood Mayor Lucy Harbert pointed out the tax credit bill is the second step in the process of getting the plant started up again.

Managers say the company still needs to negotiate an electric rate it can afford and a labor contract.

"The public service commission is probably the biggest (challenge). It's the toughest. The labor, I don't think is going to be quite as tough. In fact, I look for that to go quite well," says plant manager Gordon Hopper.

A few years ago, some people thought these things may never happen.

But now there's excitement about hundreds of jobs possibly coming back, helping this community to bounce back.

“They’re smiling now. They've just been in a depressed state. And now people are, they seem friendlier, and it's just a better whole atmosphere altogether," says Harbert.

Century managers aren't committing to a timeline for the plant to reopen, but local leaders hope it will be by the end of the year.
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