Cliffs to resume production at idled Northshore Mining

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SILVER BAY, Minn. (AP) — Cliffs Natural Resources said Monday that it will restart production at Northshore Mining by May 15, the first major callback of workers in several months on northern Minnesota's Iron Range.

The company announced in November it was temporarily shutting down Northshore's taconite mine in Babbitt and processing plant in Silver Bay, which employ around 540 people, amid a global steel industry slump with roots in China's economic slowdown. Government leaders and industry officials blame the more than 2,000 layoffs at Iron Range mining operations over the past year on the dumping of cheap subsidized Chinese steel on U.S. markets.

"The sun peeked through this morning on the Iron Range," said Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk, who represents Babbitt and Silver Bay. "It is a big deal."

In its announcement about the reopening, Cliffs said it has been receiving more orders for taconite pellets, which steelmakers use in traditional blast furnace mills. CEO Lourenco Goncalves said "the avalanche of unfairly traded steel imports ... is starting are subside," so domestic demand for pellets is approaching more normal levels.

The Cleveland-based company also said that when it restarts operations at Northshore, it will also produce higher-grade iron pellets for more modern electric arc furnace steel mills. Cliffs test-produced the higher-grade product at Northshore last year.

Cliffs-owned United Taconite's operations in Eveleth and Forbes, which laid off more than 400 workers, remain closed. So does the United States Steel Corp. Keetac operation in Keewatin, where more than 400 workers have been affected. Magnetation in Grand Rapids, Mesabi Nugget near Hoyt Lakes and Mining Resources in Chisholm also remain partly or completely shut down. However, Minnesota's largest producer, U.S. Steel's Minntac operation in Mountain Iron, is back at full production after layoffs last summer.

The Minnesota Senate last week voted to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers, but the House has yet to agree.