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Taconite piles up as Iron Range mines shut down

Huge stockpiles of taconite sit behind idle ore docks in Two Harbors.
MinnPost photo by Catherine Conlan
Huge stockpiles of taconite sit behind idle ore docks in Two Harbors.

TWO HARBORS, Minn. — With Hibbing Taconite’s 3½ month shutdown having started last Saturday, it’s quiet on the Iron Range: None of the mines is currently producing any taconite. This period  may well be remembered as being on the same level as earlier slowdowns — the bad days in the 1980s, the strike in 1977.

Because of the lack of demand in the steel industry, it looks to be a lackluster summer for the taconite transportation companies as well, with almost no trains running on the DM&IR rails (now CN), and few ore boats coming in to Duluth, Two Harbors and Silver Bay. Huge stockpiles wait at the docks. 

Management at most of the mines is using the down time for long-term maintenance projects, some of which were put off during the boom times.

“We’ve got lots of projects going on,” says Jonathan Holmes, operations manager at ArcelorMittal Minorca in Virginia. “We’re taking advantage of long-term things that you can’t always do when you’re being pushed.”

United Taconite in Eveleth “is down for its scheduled major repair on Line 2 and then there’s a two-week layoff period,” said Maureen Talarico, Cleveland Cliffs’ district manager for public affairs.

“Nothing’s changed from our May 6 release, which extended the Northshore Mining halt into the early part of July. And Hibbing started its 3½ month shutdown over the weekend.”

U.S. Steel’s Keewatin Taconite has been idle since last December.

The Minntac operation in Virginia is expected to start up for three weeks starting May 31, and then will be shut down again, said Chad Daniels, financial secretary for Steelworkers Local 1938.

In the meantime, “Minntac has not chosen to do any major maintenance projects,” and is not producing any taconite at all, Daniels said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated the length of Hibbing Taconite’s shutdown.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by kate seitz on 05/20/2009 - 03:47 pm.

    thanks for the update! does the slowdown in taconite mining have any bearing on the proposed sulfide mines in minnesota? i know they’re mining for different minerals, but is the market for copper/nickel as slow as the market right now for iron?

  2. Submitted by Eric Larson on 05/20/2009 - 09:30 pm.

    Serious question. When I lived in the Arrowhead, we created the IRRRB to cushion this. Other then raising the costs to the Mine-owner-operators, is there any serious proposals to change this? Such as lowering the government costs to the mining operations?

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