Cleveland-Cliffs' Minnesota subsidiary has bought or leased 3,768 acres of iron ore reserves in Itasca County west of Nashwauk, company officials announced Monday.
Cliffs — which operates United Taconite, Hibbing Taconite and Northshore Mining on the Iron Range — said it purchased and leased the land from Glacier Park Iron Ore Properties LLC.
"When these Glacier Park parcels became available, we saw an opportunity," said Cliffs spokeswoman Patricia Persico. "We are always interested in acquiring additional iron ore reserves. For us, it's part of our strategic plan."
Cliffs' newly acquired land had been leased by the former Essar Steel Minnesota. The property sits just west of Essar's half-built taconite project in Nashwauk.
Chippewa Capital Partners, which is trying to buy Essar out of bankruptcy, had originally secured a deal with Glacier Park to buy the site. But that purchase was dependent on Chippewa first securing financing by Oct. 31.
After Chippewa did not secure the needed financing in time, the land went back on the market and Cliffs pursued it, Cliffs officials said.
The Glacier Park land that Cliffs acquired is not tied to the controversial mineral leases associated with Essar's bankruptcy. The fate of those Essar leases, which at one point the state was poised to give to Cliffs, are tied to the bankruptcy case. The state has approved they be given to Chippewa Capital Partners as part of Chippewa's plan to buy Essar out of bankruptcy.
Chippewa Capital, which is partly owned by state of Virginia health care billionaire Tom Clarke, is in the final stages of raising $500 million in equity and loan financing to buy Essar out of bankruptcy.
That exit plan is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. It had originally been due on Sept. 30, but Chippewa won an extension from the state and the bankruptcy court.
Cliffs, which has operated various iron ore mines and iron pelletizing plants in Minnesota for 115 years, said it expects one day to leverage its newly acquired land rights and to work with nearby private land owners and the state. By sitting down together the hope is "to develop a financially sustainable plan for the site" in the future, Persico said.
The site might one day "be considered [for development] as other iron ore resources deplete," Cliffs officials said in a statement.
If successful, it will mark one more sign of Cliffs' comeback plan. The company, which once idled portions of its United Taconite and Northshore Mining businesses due to a global industry downturn, has since restored production and built an addition to its United Taconite facility in Forbes/Eveleth.
The buzz of activity on the Iron Range is welcome news for state officials who once mourned the loss of more than 2,000 jobs due to the global slowdown in the iron ore sector during 2015 and 2016. At the time, most iron ore and pellet makers in the region idled production and issued pink slips until they received new and sufficiently priced orders for ore.