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Alcoa modernization plans moving forward despite fire

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MASSENA — Alcoa is still moving “full speed ahead” with its Massena modernization plans despite last month’s cast house fire, according to spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr.

Plant officials met Monday with Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, to discuss the short- and long-term consequences of the March 29 fire. The week of April 9, Alcoa reduced hours for 75 of its employees in its Forging and Extrusions Production portion of the west plant because of the fire, Ms. Marr said. Those employees began working 32 hours a week instead of 40.

Last week, the number of employees on reduced hours dropped to 49, Ms. Marr said. This week, nobody is on reduced hours. Alcoa will continue to review staffing levels on a week-by-week basis.

Long term, the company continues to forge ahead with modernizing its plant, Ms. Marr said. There is a team of more than 70 people working on those plans.

Alcoa’s board of directors ultimately will decide whether to commit to the modernization by March 31, 2013, and local staff are using the time between now and then to hammer out the details and make Massena as attractive as possible to corporate. Alcoa’s commitment to modernization could ensure the company’s future here for decades to come.

In order to continue receiving low-cost hydro power from the New York Power Authority, Alcoa must invest at least $600 million in the modernized plant. The project will cost more than that, Plant Manager John Martin previously said.

Mr. Owens and Ms. Russell were both pleased with Monday’s meeting.

“It’s quite a relief to see they have this process well in hand,” Ms. Russell said. “They’re going to be in good shape sooner rather than later. That bodes really well for our community.”

Ms. Russell said she now understands that repairs to the cast house and the modernization project appear to be two separate issues.

“It doesn’t appear to have had an impact on the modernization project,” she said of the fire.

Mr. Owens echoed a similar sentiment.

“They’re moving diligently to complete the repair process. The modernization project is continuing at the same pace as it was before the fire,” he said. Alcoa did not provide details on the timetable for repairs or the total cost of damage, he added, because releasing details about the timetable could affect the marketplace.

“I felt they wanted to be as informative as they could with us,” Mr. Owens said.

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