Governor's Town Hall Meeting About Mesabi Metallics Gets Heated

Updated: September 24, 2018 10:36 PM

Governor Dayton made himself available to the folks on the Range who have been watching the Mesabi Metallics saga unfold for years. And it was a nearly three hour long town hall, which grew heated, uncomfortable to listen to, and confrontational at times.

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He, along with the commissioner and assistant commissioner of the DNR and the CEO of Mesabi Metallics, stood in front of a room full of people, and answered questions that people have about the future of the project.

Many folks in that room support Cleveland-Cliffs, and many made that perfectly clear during their questions to the governor.

At one point, a leader from Cliffs referenced Dayton working with them two years ago, and even having dinner with the governor. "You admitted you went back on your word," he said.

Dayton fired back. "Let me answer that. My honesty and integrity means a lot to me. For 40 years, I've been doing every goddamn thing I can to bring jobs to the Iron Range, with the one exception of Twin Metals. Everything else I've supported, within the confines of the law. When I said that to Lourenco, it was before they (Essar) went into bankruptcy, when there was no one else around, when there was a lot of unemployment up here. And I meant it. And I would have proceeded to do except they went into bankruptcy. I don't have standing in bankruptcy court, neither does the state. And so we had to follow the law. If Cliffs wants to buy this project, they can buy it," he said.

He also accused Cliffs of spreading misinformation the state leases. "We don't have the authority to yank the leases," he said.

Mesabi's CEO, Gary Heasley, acknowledged before the meeting that this project has been challenged over the years. He told us,"There has been steady construction for 15 months, and there's been a lot of investment."

He told the crowd, "I don't understand what you're talking about when you say people are taking things from Cliffs. Nobody is taking anything from Cliffs. I trust Lourenco. I've worked with him in the past."

Heasley added, "We are in talks with a new investor. Let's get this thing built."

Other concerns brought up by steelworkers and mine managers included, who is actually going to buy the pellets, and is that going to displace pellets produced by existing mines.

Cliffs owns mineral rights and land in Nashwauk, and has begun working on a work road so they can start sampling the ore there.

The DNR maintains that they cannot terminate or transfer parts of the permit to mine for Cliffs since they are not part of the permit. Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore said they could modify the permit if needed with the permit holder, Mesabi Metallics.

Commissioner Tom Landwehr added, "If the lease termination happens, someone has to start all over. It could take six years. We are moving forward with the most viable option."

But many in that room disagree with their decision.

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