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NEWS9 Special Assignment: A Brighter Future

At its peak, Weirton had around 13,000 employees working in the mill that still stands today.

At its peak, Weirton had around 13,000 employees working in the mill that still stands today.

Through the years, that land became contaminated and the jobs that were once there tapered off to nearly nothing.

Now the community sees the reflections of its past and can only hope for a brighter future.

“This is horrible,” former steel worker Dale Tustin said. “It’s all gone.”

Molten steel was the lifeblood of the community.

"We see the heartaches that our family members and relatives and neighbors have had to suffer through," Weirton City Manager Travis Blosser said.

They’re suffocated by the struggles of a broken business.

"Some of those properties have been vacant for 30 years,” Business Development Corporation Executive Director Pat Ford said.

"A city can’t survive like that."

It’s a story that spans generations.

"Can you go get us some popcorn? It’s gonna be a long movie," said former steelworker Hus Drizake.

A group of friends reflected on their time spent in the mill from the parking lot of their car shop, which sits across the street from there longtime livelihood.

“I remember when this town was really hopping,” former steelworker Edmund DiBacco said. “Right out of high school, you were able to get a job. (You) didn’t have to go to college.

"A job was guaranteed,” said former steelworker Bob D’Alesio. “I mean, our parents had jobs. I didn’t think there was anything else. My dad, my uncle, my sisters all worked in the mill.”

It was the business that built them and their friendships.

"We made a good living there,” DiBacco said. “We bought our houses because of the mill, we raised our kids because of the mill … bought our cars. I mean it was great."

"I think some people look at it as its their history,” Blosser said. “People grew up in this community, they saw this community rise and become Weirton.”

"There were 13,000 employees working in Weirton at one time, and when the mill would let out, there was a traffic policeman at every stop light,” DiBacco said. “That’s how busy this town was."

Then, the furnaces went cold.

"I knew around 1998 that our days were numbered," DiBacco said.

The craft that fueled the lives of thousands of employees shut down.

"My last day was February 13, 2004,” DiBacco said. “I rolled the last coil on No. 8 Tannomill. The steel we were running that day was going to New York for the new World Trade Center."

It was Weirton Steel that helped rebuild the worst tragedy in the nation.

Now the staple landscape carved into the city’s geography for more than 100 years sits vacant.

"It’s interesting when people look, they see the skeletons, or the bones of what it used to be. What I see are organs of what can be," Ford said.

"Instead of sitting on the sidelines wondering what if, we have to be the ones driving the initiative,” Blosser said.

By working with elected officials, two funding opportunities have become available locally and are helping to turn our brownfields green.

"There’s a reason why these companies languish for so long, and that is because the environmental liability," Ford said.

"Unfortunately, the remains of some of those past uses are in the soil, and they’ve been here for a long time."

By removing hazardous contamination, they’re looking to turn these properties – and the economy – green.

"There is approximately $70 billion of private investment in this region, and we are at the epicenter of that," Ford said.

"How many communities can you count an $800,00 revolving loan fund grant, $1.2 million from the U.S. EDA? How many municipalities are you seeing going after that kind of money," Blosser asked.

"Everybody wants this town to come, back but I see it at a different angle,” former steelworker Bob Kovalik said. “College kids, they don’t want to stay. They’re leaving. It’s not really that they want to leave. They have to.

“(My daughter) calls it a dead town.”

Officials are trying to make it possible to keep families here.

"We really just have one mission,” Ford said. “We want to be able to provide a family an employment opportunity so they can put food on the table. That’s it."

By bringing back the beating heart of the city, they’re hoping to call those college students home.

"Providing that opportunity for people’s families who continue to be in this region and stay in this region not to leave the Ohio valley, not to leave West Virginia, but to stay here," Blosser said.

Whether we’re looking at reflections of the past that were wiped away, or the people that built this industry …

"We need something to come in here and pep things up, build steady jobs," Tustin said.

"Weirton will change,” DiBacco said. “It will evolve just like everything else."

Now with the foundation in place, bricks are being laid to build a brighter future.

"We don’t need to give it much of a shock,” Ford said. “We just need to give it a little love."

Steps toward that brighter future are already being forged and jobs that were once in the mill are coming back to new business -- Back to the Future.

On Thursday night, we’ll share a breakdown of the number of boots on the ground and the present-day statistics.

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