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Essar affirms plans for 2013 Iron Range taconite production

Minnesota Brown

essar steelEssar Steel Minnesota is still eying 2013 taconite production on the Iron Range and will work through the winter on construction of its plant near Nashwauk.

I spoke with Essar spokesman Kevin Kangas today after my post last night about the Anacostia and Pacific Railroad's decision to pursue other options for the engines it had dedicated to the Essar Steel supply line. While the railroad is, indeed, making other plans Kangas says Essar has several options to maintain the supply line, including negotiating with other railroads, resuming negotiations with A&P in the future, or even operating its own short line railroad.

Both BNSF and CN railroads would be candidates for hauling pellets, once the company has begun mining.

Rumors over the status of Essar run rampant on the Iron Range, where some version of the resurrection of the old Butler plant site has been in the works for more than 15 years. India-based Essar's involvement began about five years ago when it purchased the old Minnesota Iron and Steel project. Kangas says that while the project has slowed down somewhat due to a reorganization of company financing, work has continued in earnest and will proceed through the winter as the plant enclosures are completed.

"It's a matter of getting the right equipment when we need it," said Kangas. "The exact schedule is still in the works."

Kangas will address upcoming meetings of the Itasca County Regional Rail Authority and county board to update local officials on the project. Decisions made in the next couple weeks will influence the pace of construction through the winter.

"If at times we're silent on our schedule, know that we do have a schedule, but that a lot of things that influence that schedule are going on all the time."

Kangas said there is frequent, daily communication between the Minnesota site and company headquarters in India, all dedicated toward opening production as soon as possible. 

Kangas also said that, to his knowledge, all contractors on the project have been paid, something that at least one major contractor had complained about after the project slow-down in September.

About 100 people are working on site now and Essar has 91 employees, on its way to about 350 once the plant is complete.

This post was written by Aaron J. Brown and originally published on Minnesota Brown. Follow Aaron on Twitter: @minnesotabrown

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