NASHWAUK, MN– Emotions ran high Monday during a town hall meeting in Nashwauk over the future of the former Essar mine site currently owned by Mesabi Metallics.
The meeting, which was meant to clear up any confusion surrounding the current mining and pellet plant project, turned into a heated debated over iron ore mining company, Cleveland-Cliffs involvement, or lack of in the future site.
Tension filled the room packed as a panel of Iron Range and state leaders including Governor Mark Dayton answered questions and concerns surrounding the future of the Mesabi Metallics project.
Interim CEO of Mesabi Metallics, Gary Heasley joined Governor Dayton and members of the state DNR and IRRRB in answering the questions.
Many Iron Range mayors, union members, and employees at Cliffs addressed the panel asking them why the mineral leases were not awarded to Cliffs after Essar’s bankruptcy and why the company is not the owner of the project.
Heasley and Dayton addressed the crowd saying Cleveland-Cliffs has had the opportunity for 30 years to put an offer down on the land and leases at the mine site and failed to do so.
Governor Dayton added, “it is what it is, we don’t have the ability since it is now owned by Mesabi Metallics to go out and negotiate with somebody else. I mean that would probably be illegal but it certainly wouldn’t be proper.” He claims Cliffs has been spreading misinformation the state leases and control.
Heasley stood and addressed the crowd after many people spoke up about Cliffs. He says, “If Cliffs wants to develop new mines they’re free to go do it. If they want to invest in existing mines, they do and they’re free to do that. Cliffs hasn’t been blocked or nothing has been done to Cliffs.”
Heasley says the reason for the meeting was not to look at the past as to why Cliffs isn’t involved in the project but rather to inform every one of Mesabi Metallics future plans to see the project through completion.
The interim CEO says construction has been going steady for 15 months on the site and a lot of new investments have been made. “As we move forward and we get some more preparation done, some more engineering complete, we can take the work on site to a higher level. And as we complete all the preconditions and access our financing we can then really begin to ramp up.”
Other concerns addressed are whether or not jobs at the Mesabi Metallics would be union jobs, who the pellets be sold to, and will that create competition within the existing taconite mines on the range.
Cliffs currently owns land and mineral rights surrounding the mine site and some portions within the site. They have started work for sampling ore in some areas.
Mesabi Metallics has until December of 2019 to begin production.
The panel of state and Iron Range leaders say they hope the public took away some valuable information during the meeting. They say hearing different perspectives on the project will help the company moving forward.