Northshore Mining on the Iron Range is being idled through August amid coronavirus concerns and lower demand for steel as global economies slow to a crawl.
The move by owner Cleveland-Cliffs, which also is idling its Tilden Mine in Michigan through July, comes following “the extraordinary disruptions in manufacturing and steel production in North America due to the impact of the COVID-19 market shock,” said CEO Lourenco Goncalves in a statement.
Northshore Mining operates an iron ore mine in Babbitt and a pelletizing plant in Silver Bay. About 470 employees will be laid off. Its other 100 workers will stay on as maintenance, loading and dock workers.
“As our steel customers rationalize their operations’ capacities, we made the decision to adjust our iron ore production during the first half of the year,” Goncalves said.
Cliffs expects to “quickly restart and ramp up production” as its customers’ businesses improve, he said.
Nine months ago, Northshore celebrated a $100 million renovation at its Silver Bay operations that allowed it to produce a high-grade type of iron pellet that — for the first time — could be used by electric-arc steelmaking furnaces.
But with U.S. automakers temporarily shutting down their factories, there is less demand for steel all around.
It is not yet known if other iron ore operations in Minnesota will be idled along with Northshore Mining.
In addition to Northshore, Ohio-based Cleveland-Cliffs owns United Taconite in Forbes and Eveleth and co-owns Hibbing Taconite in Hibbing along with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal.
ArcelorMittal has not said if operations will slow at its Minorca Mine on the Iron Range. However, it announced last week that it would idle its Indiana Harbor No. 4 blast furnace.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Steel — which owns the taconite plants Keetac in Keewatin and Minntac in Mountain Iron — said those plants were not yet affected by actions taken to cut costs. U.S. Steel also idled a blast furnace in Indiana and another in Illinois.