For the second time in a month, the beleaguered Iron Range received a dose of good news.
The idled United Taconite plant and mine in Forbes and Eveleth will reopen later this year with new equipment and the recall of all 420 laid-off workers, company officials announced Wednesday during a meeting in Virginia, Minn.
The plant has been idled since August due to the impact of illegal steel dumping into the United States and the plunging of iron ore prices worldwide.
Last week, United’s parent firm, Cliffs Natural Resources, said that it plans to reopen its shuttered Northshore Mining Operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt, Minn. All 540 workers there are expected to be recalled to work in mid-May.
There is no firm date on when United Taconite will reopen.
Still, Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves told Minnesota legislators and Iron Range economic development advocates during a meeting Wednesday that he expects United Taconite will return to production this year because of two key events.
Recent trade tariffs deployed by Congress and the Obama administration against China and several other steel dumping nations are beginning to take hold, he said. The result is that the flow of underpriced imports into the United States is slowing.
Goncalves added that Cliffs expects to invest $65 million in new production equipment into the United plant so it can create a higher grade of iron ore pellet, a key ingredient in the production of steel.
If everything goes according to plan, the new iron ore pellets made by United Taconite will replace supplies that had traditionally been made by Cliffs’ closing Empire Mine in Michigan, said Cliffs spokeswoman Patricia Persico. Empire’s pellets were traditionally sold to ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal and Cliffs will need to finalize their new supply agreement before production at United Taconite would begin, she said.
“It’s more good news and frankly it’s a relief,” said Tony Barrett, economics professor at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
The Iron Range has been hammered for a year as 2,000 iron ore workers were laid off by eight different Minnesota taconite facilities. U.S. Steel’s idled Mountain Iron plant reopened several months ago.
Companies continuing to idle operations on the Range include Mesabi Nugget in Hoyt Lakes, Mining Resources in Chisholm, Magnetation in Bovey and Keewatin, and United Steel’s Keetac plant in Keewatin.