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Two companies express interest in shuttered Ferndale aluminum smelter

Should the smelter reopen, it could bring up to 1,000 jobs back to the community, more than replacing the 700 jobs lost when the smelter originally closed.

FERNDALE, Wash. — Officials from the Port of Bellingham say the defunct Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter in Ferndale could be resurrected by new owners. While the news is preliminary, it's bringing new hope for the town. 

Al Holub had just opened his Main Street diner when the coronavirus pandemic hit. If that wasn't bad enough, the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter shut down not too soon after and took 700 family wage jobs with it. 

"It was a punch in the gut," said Holub. "It had you wondering if you're gonna still be doing enough business to keep going."

The smelter operated in Ferndale for more than half a century and employed three generations of people. The plant experienced sporadic shutdowns over the years with the fluctuating aluminum industry, so much so that last year's official closure almost didn't feel real.

"It's been a kick in the gut so many times that you get almost complacent," said Cory Campbell, who was born in Ferndale.

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The closure prompted rallies and people pleading with politicians, including former President Donald Trump, to save the plant but nothing materialized -- until now. 

Port of Bellingham officials said not one but two companies are interested in taking over the Ferndale property. 

One company would reopen the plant as an aluminum smelter, while the other would turn it into a steel mill that would focus on recycled material -- dubbed the "greenest steel mill in the world."

Ferndale Mayor Greg Hansen said the new investment could bring 600 to 1,000 new jobs.

"One thousand jobs, that's a game-changer," said Hansen, "Not just for Ferndale but for all of Whatcom County. That would take us back to shortly after Intalco opened in the 1970s at the height of their production."

Port officials initially agreed to an interview with KING 5, but abruptly canceled saying they would have no further comment.

People in Ferndale said it would be good news for the town but they are still wary of being burned again. 

"You want to be hopeful but you've been hopeful multiple times in the past and then get let down," said Campbell. "So, I would like to be hopeful for it, but we're worried, too."

Hansen said even if the deals fall through, it's still encouraging that the smelter property and Whatcom County are still on the industry's radar.

"The fact that two companies are interested in coming back here says a lot about our workforce and our community."