A bankruptcy judge settled a bitter dispute Monday by awarding contested mineral lease rights on the Iron Range to Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., rather than to the Tom Clarke investment group that is trying to revive the defunct Essar Steel Minnesota project in Nashwauk, Minnesota.

Clarke's group, Mesabi Metallics and its parent firm Chippewa Capital Partners LLC, sued Cleveland Cliffs and Glacier Park Iron Ore Properties LLC late last year.  

In the lawsuit, Mesabi accused Cliffs and Glacier of anti-competitive behavior after Glacier agreed to sell and lease iron ore reserves in Nashwauk to Cliffs. Much of the 3,768 acres of land in question was previously leased to Mesabi Metallics and its predecessor Essar Steel.

Cliffs, which countersued Mesabi, contended it had every right to the land, since it bought and leased the acres in December - after Mesabi's leases had expired in Oct. 31 2017. Cliffs officials maintained that Mesabi's lease agreement expired after it failed to meet certain financing provisions and other deadlines established in bankruptcy court. 

Monday, a judge agreed. 

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brendan Shannon in Wilmington, Delaware wrote Monday that   "When Nov. 1 arrived without Mesabi going effective, the leases were rejected, reverted to Glacier Park Iron Ore and GPIO could take any action thereafter as provided in the settlement agreement."

The decision is not expected to kill Chippewa Capital's work in Nashwauk. Chippewa won a host of mineral lease rights from the state of Minnesota earlier this month. And it separately purchased a large parcel of adjacent land in Nashwauk that should allow it to mine a region known for quality iron ore. 

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