United Taconite reopening in August, 2 months early

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Cliffs Natural Resources brought more good news to northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range on Thursday when the company said it will restart operations in August at its United Taconite mining facilities, two months earlier than previously announced.

Cleveland-based Cliffs announced the early restart after reaching a contract with U.S. Steel Canada to supply the majority of its iron ore pellet requirements for the second half of this year. That follows a 10-year supply agreement announced last week with another major steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, which had led the mining company to plan on reopening United Taconite in October.

United Taconite employs about 450 people at its mine in Eveleth and processing plant in nearby Forbes. They were idled in August amid a global steel industry slump blamed on Chinese dumping of cheap subsidized steel that led to more than 2,000 direct layoffs on the Iron Range. The aftershocks from the shutdowns cost the regional economy more than 3,000 other jobs.

But the federal government has since imposed stiff tariffs on Chinese steel products, giving some relief to the domestic steel industry. And Chinese officials promised U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew this week that they will rein in steel production.

The relief is starting to be felt in Minnesota, by far the largest iron ore-producing state. Last month Cliffs, the country’s top iron ore mining company, recalled more than 400 workers at Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay, the first major callback on the Range in several months.

“The vast majority of the steel companies in North America are currently enjoying stronger order books, and their demand for high quality iron ore pellets from a reliable supplier is increasing,” Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in a statement. “With that, Cliffs’ business continues to gain very positive momentum, with the improvement of the existing business with our long established clients and the addition of new ones.”

However, U.S. Steel’s Keetac operation in Keewatin remains closed, as are Mesabi Nugget near Hoyt Lakes and Mining Resources in Chisholm. Most of Grand Rapids-based Magnetation’s plants are also closed.

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