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Alcoa repairs to begin after fire

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MASSENA — Repairs to the Alcoa cast house roof that was heavily damaged in a March fire will begin next week, according to company officials.

Approximately 125 construction workers will spend the summer replacing damaged structural steel and repairing the 80-by-400-foot roof, according to spokeswoman Sonya Elam Harden. The work will begin June 8 and be complete by fall, she said.

The work will allow for “continued recovery of production” at the cast house, Ms. Elam Harden said.

“Our goal is to get back into full production as quickly as possible to supply our customers, and this is a step in that process,” Ms. Elam Harden said in an email.

A malfunctioning piece of equipment sparked the March 29 blaze, which quickly leapt to the roof of the two-story cast house at the Massena West Plant. Smoke from the burning roof blanketed the village of Massena and could be seen for miles.

Approximately 75 employees had their weekly hours reduced from 40 to 32 a couple of weeks after the fire. Company officials said staffing levels would be evaluated on a week-by-week basis.

Christopher W. Baldwin, president of United Steelworkers Local 420-A, could not be reached for comment Thursday night on the repairs. Earlier on Thursday, he said the workforce reductions ended several weeks ago and haven’t resumed since.

There have been “no layoffs yet and no word of any,” he said.

Alcoa’s Massena West operations employ approximately 540 hourly and 175 salaried workers.

“We’re still at 100 percent,” Mr. Baldwin said. “The work has been coming in pretty steady for them.”

An internal investigation into the fire is continuing, Ms. Elam Harden said. She said the company still did not have damage estimates from the fire.

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray was pleased to hear of the repairs. The fire had made Massena residents apprehensive to some degree about Alcoa’s future in the community, he said.

“I didn’t have a doubt of ‘if.’ It was a matter of ‘when,’” Mr. Gray said. “Obviously it’s great news that it’s happening so quickly.”

Alcoa employing 125 for repairs is also a plus for Massena, Mr. Gray said.

“There’s certainly no downside,” he said. “There’s no negative here.”

Alcoa spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr previously said the company was moving “full-speed ahead” with modernization plans at the Alcoa East Plant despite the fire. 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.

In order to continue receiving low-cost hydro power from the New York Power Authority, Alcoa must invest at least $600 million in a modernized plant. The project will cost more than that, plant manager John Martin previously said. The modernization could ensure Alcoa’s presence in Massena for decades to come.

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