GEORGETOWN — For two and a half years, Gerald Moore has been working odd jobs, hoping that something, anything, would come along to bring the steel mill here back to life.
On Tuesday, his wait was over. Twenty workers, including Moore, returned to the mill in this small coastal city for the first time since it closed in August 2015.
Moore, a mechanic who started at the mill 32 years ago, said employees inside the gate are mostly cleaning and checking over machinery that's been idle for almost three years. The mill's furnace was in relatively good shape, though it needs to be re-bricked; a crew was also checking the cranes inside, which would likely have to be refurbished.
"There's not going to be a lack of work, that's for sure," he said.
The mill that produced the steel cord that keeps the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston aloft is slowly coming back to life after London-based Liberty House Group finalized its purchase in December.
Another round of 20 workers — the last of the unionized employees with recall rights — will be brought back April 16, then managers will start assessing the more than 300 people who have already applied.
The mill, which has been renamed Liberty Steel Georgetown, will initially hire 125 people, but it will eventually employ twice that amount as production increases.
It's been a full year since the news broke that the mill, which has closed and reopened multiple times before, might be brought back into production. Liberty House has said the Georgetown mill would likely be the first of many future acquisitions in the United States.
James Sanderson, the local steelworkers' union president, said he was sure the purchase was spurred by Donald Trump's move to impose tariffs on a bevy of foreign goods, but Gordon Spelich, the manager of the mill, said the plan was in place long before Trump announced the tariffs.
During the mill's closure, some city officials were intent on crafting a different future for the site, pushing a rezoning initiative that would help convert the waterfront land the mill sits on to a more tourist-friendly area.
The dispute over that rezoning eventually saw longtime Mayor Jack Scoville, a supporter of promoting tourism as opposed to industry, booted from office after the Democratic primary this past fall. Brendon Barber, who was sworn in as the city's first black mayor at the beginning of this year, was more supportive of the mill and had the backing of the local steelworkers union.
The city still enacted a rezoning ordinance at the end of last year that would preclude the site from being used for heavy industry if the mill is idle for more than 365 consecutive days.
Spelich was confident Liberty Steel Georgetown would operate well into the future. On Friday, Spelich was fielding calls from former customers across the country who had heard about the reopening. Georgetown's mill, which was established about 50 years ago, specializes in high-quality wire rods.
Spelich has been in Georgetown before — he helped the now-defunct International Steel Group buy the mill out of a bankruptcy auction in the early 2000s. Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal took control of the Georgetown Mill in 2004.
"We were successful before," Spelich said. "It's the same people and the same equipment."
Some aren't thrilled about heavy industry starting back up in Georgetown.
Paul Skokol, a retired schoolteacher, lives less than a block away from the mill on Cleland Street. His two-story house — the same one he was born in — was stained a rusty orange over the years the mill was operating. He's tried to have the house professionally cleaned, he said, but nothing worked and he decided the process was too costly to keep trying.
"I thought it was wonderful when (the mill) was closed. I'm not happy about its reopening," he said.
Spelich said the mill is no longer producing the products that created the red dust, so residents shouldn't expect it to return.
"That would be nice," Skokol said. "I don't know whether I can believe that or not."
Debra Cox owns Carolina Creations Salon and Spa at 1118 Front St. The salon was a muted sage green when the building opened 10 years ago, but it's also stained. Contractors tried everything to wash the hue off, with one man even using an acid that ate through a jacket he was wearing. The color never changed.
ArcelorMittal had previously agreed to help her pay $35,000 to fix the siding on the building, Cox said, but they stopped responding to her calls and emails when the sale of the mill was announced.
Still, she was happy the mill is reopening, and hoped more people across the street would mean more business. Cars are in the parking lot at Front and Frazier streets again, a small sign that the facility is coming back to life.
"Georgetown is dying," she said. "(With more jobs), I'm hoping people will move here."