CLEVELAND – With the clock ticking, steelworkers, public officials and community leaders are studying offers to buy the bankrupt LTV Steel mills and considering the possibility of public ownership.

The mills are scheduled to be sold at an auction set for Feb. 28 in federal bankruptcy court in Youngstown. Under an agreement reached Dec. 7, LTV has been forced to keep the mills, which employ 7,500 workers in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, on “hot idle” so that they could be started up undamaged if a buyer or buyers are found.

According to press reports 10 potential bidders have submitted letters of interest in buying the facilities at LTV. These reportedly include U.S. and Bethlehem Steel Corporations, Cleveland Cliffs, three foreign steel companies and several investor groups. The parties must submit formal bids by Feb. 20 and LTV will then make its recommendation to the court.

Since the names of potential bidders have surfaced, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a leader of the fight to save the mills, has held two “Steel Summit” meetings bringing dozens of steelworkers, labor leaders, public officials, company representatives and others to discuss intervening in the process.

At the first meeting, Feb. 4, a resolution was adopted and forwarded to the court stating that the final decision must guarantee acquisition and resumption of production of the entire Cleveland steel complex, that the union contract must be restored and that there must be commitment to resolve environmental concerns and redevelop any unused property.

Steelworkers presented Kucinich and other officials in attendance with petitions signed by some 1,500 LTV steelworkers and retirees asking the city, Cuyahoga County and the Greater Cleveland Port Authority to investigate the feasibility of using eminent domain to secure public ownership.

Kucinich welcomed the petitions and said this proposal was “part of the mix” and may be utilized “if all else fails.” Cleveland Economic Development Director Chris Warren said that the idea was being actively studied by the city.

It was also suggested that public participation to protect the interest of the community and the workers could come in the court decision, either through a winning bid by a joint public-private partnership or by a public entity that would then lease the mills to private operators.

At the second meeting, Feb. 11, assessments were made of the known potential bidders. Kucinich said he had met with Tom Usher, CEO of U.S. Steel, who confirmed published reports that his company seeks a major restructuring and consolidation of the industry under its control.

This would entail reduction of steel capacity in the U.S. by 25 percent. Kucinich expressed concern that “there may be no room for Cleveland” in Usher’s plans and that the company could buy the mills here only to shut them down.

Warren voiced his concern that this plan had the support of the Bush administration and that this might include enactment of pending import legislation and payment of “legacy costs” (pensions and health benefits for retirees) to overcome potential opposition from steelworkers.

Mike Rubicz, president of Steelworkers Local 1375 in Warren, where LTV owns a coke plant, said public officials should be ready to block such an attempt by raising threats of extensive environmental clean-up costs and use of eminent domain.

Bill Prejsnar, president of the coke plant unit of Local 1375 reported that a last-minute agreement had been reached to keep the facility operating at a minimal level for nine more days in hopes of finding a buyer.

LTV had previously agreed to sell the coke plant for $1 plus several million dollars in financial liabilities, but the deal fell through Jan. 30 when a key customer backed out. Another Steel Summit is set for Feb. 18 at Kucinich’s office.