Steel Mill Tower Would Impact Safety at Golden Triangle Airport

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) -- A company's proposal to put a 250-foot-tall tower near a runway at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport is threatening to derail a multi-million steel mill project.

''I will not build a steel mill where the galvanizing operation is a mile away. I just can't and I won't. I will not build a steel mill that has a fatal flaw,'' SteelCorr President John Correnti said Thursday.

''If the board of supervisors doesn't approve the (memorandum of understanding) Friday, the deal is done,'' he said. ''We can't delay any longer. This deal will have been killed over something that really does not significantly negatively impact GTRA now or in the future.''

Correnti, the former chairman of Nucor, the nation's largest steel producer, partnered with four others late in 2003 to start SteelCorr.

Airport officials said they will not put GTRA at risk of a safety hazard that could impact pilots and the future of the airport.

''Safety obviously is a huge concern for us,'' GTRA Director Nick Ardillo said. ''We have talked to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and officials there tell us this will have a significant impact on the airport ... when the FAA designates something an aviation hazard, we can't ignore it.''

SteelCorr plans to build the plant on 1,380 acres of the 1,550-acre Lowndes County Megasite just east of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. The county is buying the property and will lease it to the company. The Lowndes plant will employ 450 people and will turn scrap iron into as much as 1.5 million tons of rolled steel a year.

About 1,500 workers will be needed to build the plant over 16 to 20 months.

The galvanizing tower is an integral part of the steel minimill operation. The tower would be built 0.8 miles due east of the airport runway under a proposal before Lowndes County supervisors and local economic development officials.

Local officials had been told that the Megasite map provides for no buildings over 150-feet should on the 1,550-acre site.

SteelCorr and the Columbus Lowndes Economic Development Link looked at other options, including locating the tower on 132 county-owned acres across Artesia Road about a mile from the main steel facility but 2.6 miles from the GTRA runway.

However, SteelCorr opted to return the tower to its original location adjacent to the main plant in the new memorandum. Correnti said to have the tower so far away would dramatically increase the plant's operating costs and the quality of the product it makes.

''I've seen too many steel mills go bankrupt because they've got galvanizing operations in one place and other operations in another place. When it came down to it, we just couldn't do it, we just couldn't, especially when the consultant the state recommended said it wouldn't be a major problem and that we could do it,'' Correnti said.

Correnti said an aviation consultant had reported that the impact would be minimal on the airport if traffic patterns were altered and if the tower was lighted to make it visible to approaching aircraft.

The tower's presence primarily would impact planes making visual approaches to the airport and planes making instrument landings in bad weather, low visibility or at night, Ardillo said.

''And if this is built, it would limit some of the flexibility our tower has for handling aircraft. We basically would be limited to the west,'' he said.