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Moving the Highway for Mining: Cliffs' Perspective

Updated: 08/07/2014 11:39 PM
Created: 08/07/2014 4:44 PM WDIO.com

It looks pretty simple. The huge equipment moves the raw rock, which is then processed into iron ore pellets.

But it's actually more complicated than that, because not all ore is created equal. And the ore under Highway 53 just south of Virginia, is the best left in the pit.

"We can blend that with other ores, to make the right product for our customer. By mining that deposit, we can add about 15 years to the mine life," explained Nick Beukema, Mine Manager.

A long time ago, the mine pit was very far away from the road, the ore was considered of average quality. But things have changed since that 1960 easement agreement was signed, which says MnDOT has to move the road so United Taconite can mine under it, by May 2017.

People wonder how valuable the ore is under the roadway, since it may seem narrow. "We can mine up to 800 feet deep," Beukema explained.

And why not put the new road through the pit? There are a variety of safety and construction challenges. "It would take us 15 years to move all of the ore out of here, and then the pit would be 800 feet deep, which would make building a road here more difficult than it would be now," Beukema said.

MnDOT is working continuously on this project. But they have to wait for critical test foundations to be put in the Rouchleau Pit, to fully vet the options for the re-route. No companies put in bids for the work, which was disappointing, according to engineer Pat Huston. But they have another plan in place. "We're working with a contractor who could possibly be putting those test footings in, in September."

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