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Arkansas Waterways Commission tours Big River Steel

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Big River Steel

Big River Steel will be in operation this time next year.  That announcement was made before the Arkansas Waterways Commission by John Correnti, the president and CEO of the 1.3 billion dollar steel mill under construction in Osceola.  Between 500 and 600 construction workers are currently onsite, with another 15-hundred coming to work.  On Friday, commissioners joined Correnti and president of Mid River Terminal Rick Ellis in a tour of their facilities. 

Standing just feet away from the Mississippi River, Ellis points to a huge crane with a grapple attached.  Another crane is located nearby.  Ellis says the huge claws of the grapple will pick up large amounts of scrap steel that will come in on barges.

“This is what we will offload the scrap with here.  Back behind you is a ten-yard grapple.  That means we will pick up at least ten-yards of material from each grapple.  This is designed for barges to come in with the scrap metal and we can have barges in a line.  When one barge is through, the next one pulls up and we get the steel from that barge.  My goal is to offload 700 tons an hour.”

The scrap steel will be taken by truck to the Mid River Terminal facility where the steel will be made to Big River Steel’s specifications for use.  Once the steel is ready, it will be taken by truck or rail to Big River Steel’s 13-hundred acre site.  The first place for the steel will be a melt shop. The melt shop will house massive casters, where the steel will be heated into a molten state so it can be formed into coils. Two lines will be in the finished melt shop to move the steel through this first phase,  The second phase consists of where the steel will actually be formed to customer’s needs.  The steel coils will be in varying widths and lengths.  The steel will then either go on to be shipped, or will go through the finishing lines.  The steel can be finished in one of three ways.  One way is annealing, which is a process of reheating the steel and tempering it to a specific consistency; another is pickling, where the steel is run through an acid that cleans the steel; the final way is galvanization, where zinc is liquefied and then steel is coated with the zinc.  20 miles of rail surround Big River Steel, where the finished product can be shipped by train, by truck, or back on barges.  John Correnti addressed members of the Arkansas Waterways Commission by saying that Mississippi County is steel heaven.

“If that river, the Mississippi and the Arkansas River, was in Europe, all of us wouldn’t be able to get to it because there would be industry up and down the river on both sides.  That is a wonderful resource for the state.  About this time next year, we will start melting steel.”

At full capacity, Mid River Terminal will have 165 jobs, and Big River Steel will employ over 500 workers, with the possibility of more hires in the future. A third plant the tour went to was BlueOak, Arkansas.  Former Vice-President Al Gore attended last year’s groundbreaking of the facility in Osceola. Gore is on the board of directors of BlueOak, which is a company that recovers high value precious metals from electronic scrap and e-waste.   A worker at the plant takes a handful of shredded components, like circuit boards from a computer, and shows them to the group.

“There is gold on the top where the circuit boards plug in.  That gold plating makes a good contact because it helps prevent corrosion and that is what that is for.”

He says the shredded components are taken to a furnace and the precious materials, like gold and silver, will be separated.  That is expected to be in full operation by the time Big River Steel is open. BlueOak Arkansas, plus several similar satellite companies that will locate near Big River Steel, are expected to bring in several hundred more jobs, which is creating an economic boon to the Delta.