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(Photo above: Dura-Bond pipe manufacturing operations near Harrisburg. Dominion Gas Co. photo via YouTube.)
McKeesport's claim to be the "Tube City" appears to be alive again.
Westmoreland County-based Dura-Bond Industries, which operates pipe-coating operations in Liberty Borough and Duquesne, announced today that it is leasing and will re-open U.S. Steel's former McKeesport Tubular Operations plant, also known as the electric resistance weld mill.
The McKeesport mill is the second pipe-manufacturing operation to be re-opened by Dura-Bond, which also owns a former Bethlehem Steel pipe mill in Steelton, near Harrisburg.
Terms of the purchase were not released. The ERW mill in McKeesport is the last remaining vestige of McKeesport's National Tube Works, which once employed more than 7,000 people.
The McKeesport plant produces pipes ranging from 8 to 20 inches in diameter, used mainly for gas and oil pipelines. The mill was "indefinitely idled" by U.S. Steel in August 2014 after the corporation cited a decline in demand as well as unfair competition.
U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers union have argued that South Korea and other countries have been dumping steel pipe on the U.S. market for less than the cost to make it.
The facility is being leased from the non-profit Regional Industrial Development Corp., which owns the former National Works site along with the former U.S. Steel Duquesne Works site.
"We turned around the former Bethlehem Steel pipe mill in Steelton and are ready to do it again," said Jason Norris, president of Dura-Bond Industries, a privately held company. "Our family is firm believer of manufacturing in America and hope more companies building pipeline infrastructure in the (United States) will buy domestically made pipe."
In a prepared statement, Norris noted that more than 50 percent of the oil and gas pipe currently used in the United States comes from overseas and admitted that "while the challenge will be great," the company "believes that there is an opportunity for success in McKeesport."
According to a 2015 story in PennLive.com, the website of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Dura-Bond bought the Steelton plant in 2003 from the non-profit Capital Region Economic Development Corp. The property had been unused since 1998 when it was closed by the former Bethlehem Steel Corp.
Workers in Steelton are represented by United Steelworkers Local Union 1688. It is unknown whether workers in McKeesport will have representation.
The McKeesport pipe mill closed in 1987, but re-opened in 1988 under new management by Camp-Hill Corp., a partnership between two former U.S. Steel executives.
When Marcellus shale gas drilling caused a boom in pipeline construction, U.S. Steel resumed operations of the mill in 2011, but forced all of the employees to re-apply for their jobs.
But increased competition, and a lower demand for natural gas, caused U.S. Steel to close the McKeesport facility and another pipe mill in Texas, laying off more than 200 workers.
The layoff was presented as a temporary "idling," but in 2015, U.S. Steel quietly deleted the McKeesport facility from the list of manufacturing locations on its website, and in 2016, U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi told reporters the company was considering the sale of some or all of its pipe-making facilities.
The McKeesport plant is 317,000 square feet. Dura-Bond will modernize the existing facilities and make "significant capital investments," Norris said.
Dura-Bond was founded in 1960 by the Norris family to put rust prevention coatings onto steel products.
Its subsidiaries include Dura-Bond Steel in Export, which fabricates structure steel for highway construction and the marine industry; Dura-Bond Pipe, which operates the former Bethlehem Steel pipe mill in Steelton; and Dura-Bond Coating, based in Duquesne, which applies protective epoxy coatings to steel pipes ranging from 4 to 36 inches in diameter.
In 1983, Dura-Bond acquired the former McKeesport Pipe Coating Co. plant in Liberty Borough, which was extensively upgraded in the early 1990s, according to Dura-Bond's website. The Liberty plant is "strategically located" to the McKeesport ERW mill, as the website notes.
As part of the capital investments at the McKeesport facility, Dura-Bond will create new entrances and exits into the plant.
The plans tentatively include new railroad and road connections that will free up part of the riverfront for tourist investments, including hiking and biking trail connections, McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said.
“These improvements will provide McKeesport residents and any trail users better access to explore the amenities our City offers,” Cherepko said.
According to state Sen. Jim Brewster, Dura-Bond is interested in using the so-called "flyover" ramp that crosses the CSX railroad tracks and connects the former National Works site to Lysle Boulevard at the foot of Coursin Street.
Trucks hauling pipe for U.S. Steel mainly used a gate that exited onto Water Street in Downtown McKeesport, under the Jerome Avenue Bridge.
Pipe trucks then had to travel narrow surface streets, including Market Street, and make several tight turns.
“The flyover ramps will allow better transportation access for more job creators like Dura-Bond to locate at this site," Brewster said.
U.S. Steel was cooperative in arranging for the transfer of the McKeesport plant to Dura-Bond, said Don Smith, president of RIDC.
“We are grateful to USS for their cooperation in making this deal happen, and delighted to have a great company like Dura-Bond --- a resident in our Duquesne Park --- on site," he said.
Smith also thanked city, county and state officials for continuing to invest in the McKeesport industrial park on the former National Works site.
About $60 million in public and private money has been used to redevelop the McKeesport industrial park, he said.
Originally published January 12, 2017.