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Discussions reportedly underway to reopen the Cherry Point Intalco Works facility – but as what remains to be seen

Alcoa Intalco Works worker measures liquids on a pot line as production was winding down in preparation for curtailment (August 2020). Photo courtesy of Troy Swan
Alcoa Intalco Works worker measures liquids on a pot line as production was winding down in preparation for curtailment (August 2020). Photo courtesy of Troy Swan

FERNDALE, Wash. — The Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter facility, located at 4050 Mountain View Road, has sat quiet since completion of a curtailment of operations in September 2020 which resulted in over 600 employees being laid off. But rumors of a new operation moving in have been circulating for months and appear to have been validated by announcements during 2 recent government meetings.

During the regular Ferndale City Council meeting on Monday, October 18th, Council Member and former Alcoa employee Paul Shuey asked City staff if the City’s legislative lobbyist in Olympia could build support for the new business owners. Shuey hoped such an effort could help “to get clearance to open it up, get through all the regulations and that would be a big help for the community.”

In response to Shuey’s request, Ferndale Mayor Greg Hansen said, “Alcoa left a lot of the permits intact. So I know that it will be a little bit less of a lift for them to get up and operating. We will express that to our state legislatures and at the county level as well. Which we always have.”

Bellingham Herald Business Editor Dave Gallagher reported late yesterday, October 19th, a similar but more detailed explanation occurred during yesterday’s Port of Bellingham regular Port Commission Meeting.

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During the meeting, Port of Bellingham Director of Economic Development Don Goldberg was asked by Commissioner Ken Bell to detail plans being made at the Cherry Point facility that Goldberg had mentioned during a Port meeting with Whatcom County small cities leadership earlier in the day.

Goldberg said there were 2 “major companies” who have expressed interest in the Intalco facility. Without naming the companies, Goldberg explained 1 is looking to modernize and reopen the facility and resume aluminum production and another is an American-Canadian joint venture interested in converting the facility into a micro steel mill. He added, “Of course, while we’re light years away from an actual transaction or something coming to the Commission, I’m thrilled by the idea that somebody may come in there and actually modernize that plant.”

The company interested in resuming aluminum production is “working with the State and Alcoa,” Goldberg said. “It’s a very complex process to know whether the facility can be opened.” He added it is also dependent upon Alcoa being willing to sell the facility. “Alcoa recently sold all of their property outside of the plant to the new owners of PetroGas, which is called AltaGas.”

The partnership interested in converting the facility into a micro steel mill wants to create “the greenest steel mill in the world,” according to Goldberg. This micro steel mill would use electric furnaces powered by hydrogen-generated electricity. This endeavor would be done in 3 phases with the number of jobs increasing from 100 to 700 and then to over 1,000. The investment by the partnership to create a full-scale facility in phase 3 would be about $3 billion.

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Goldberg told the commissioners the Port may get involved if it would be beneficial for the Port and/or Whatcom County to purchase the property from Alcoa and lease it to a facility operator.

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