Closing one door and opening another

Standing on that hillside, looking down into the valley Saturday morning, we all knew it would be a moment in Weirton’s history.

The sounds of the air horns helped to count down the minutes as we awaited the sight of what was undoubtedly one of Weirton’s largest-ever buildings come tumbling down. At one moment, around 7:20 a.m., the remnants of the Basic Oxygen Plant were standing tall, and then, with a flash and a boom, it collapsed as a cloud of dust, dirt and debris engulfed the land around it.

A milestone moment, for better or for worse.

First, thank you to the Frontier Group of Companies for your efforts of communicating with the people of Weirton about the process for Saturday’s events. I know this has been a massive undertaking, and there are sure to have been some bumps in the road, but eventually this process will be worth the wait and the headaches.

A big thanks to Starvaggi Industries for opening their gates and allowing those of us who were there on that hillside Saturday onto their property. There was an official media site established by Frontier, but it’s always nice to get more than one vantage point for such a large event.

Also thanks to Luke Myers, who made the arrangements and even turned the “viewing party” into a fundraiser for the Weirton United Way.

It was an experience I won’t soon forget, and I’m sure the same will be said by many.

The BOP was created as the idea of “the mill of the future,” streamlining the steel-making process and bringing it into the “modern” age. It truly was one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Weirton community and I’m sure it will be a shock to many as they enter the city — whether coming north from Follansbee or Steubenville, or coming south down County Road — and no longer see those “claws” reaching into the sky.

That facility provided the livelihood of an uncountable number of Ohio Valley residents. As some noted Saturday morning, it helped them to buy their homes, put food on the table and raise their children.

Then, one day, it was shuttered and left to rust away like much of the facilities which once provided jobs in Weirton and other cities across the country.

We’ve watched over the last year as the outer walls were cut down, and then various parts of the structure. Now, the focus turns to clearing the property and making way for its possible future.

That really needs to be the focus for us all.

The steel industry helped to build this valley, and I’m sure most will look back fondly for what it brought, but its influence began waning years ago and we need to find something else.

The Frontier Group, along with local officials, have been working for some time on the creation of a reuse plan for the property it acquired from ArcelorMittal. The goal is to redevelop the land and attract new industries and businesses which will then provide jobs for our residents.

We’ve already seen some businesses related to the oil and gas industry establish themselves in the region. Most are smaller operations, hiring a couple of hundred people and that definitely adds up. The hope, of course, would be we begin to see other industries and more jobs, and I’m sure that will happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The remnants of the BOP may have disappeared from our view in a flash and a puff of smoke Saturday, but it will take longer to get that new door fully open as we step into the future and toward whatever new opportunities may be out there.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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