State Executive Council awards mineral leases to Cleveland-Cliffs

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In a showdown in St. Paul, leaders testified about why they believe state mineral leases in Nashwauk should go or stay with different companies.

This was at the State Executive Council meeting, which includes Governor Walz and other top leaders.

The DNR proposed granting the leases to Cleveland-Cliffs, which plans on using the ore in Nashwauk to keep Hibbing Taconite running.

Supporters like the city of Hibbing testified in favor of that.

Meanwhile, leaders in Itasca County wanted the council to split the leases, making sure some stayed with Mesabi Metallics.

The DNR terminated the leases with Mesabi back in 2021, and the issue went through the courts.

After hours of testimony, it was a unanimous vote to issue the leases to Cliffs.

The company sent a statement. The CEO, Lourenco Goncalves, said, “Today’s approval of these leases by the Minnesota Executive Council resolves years of uncertainty regarding Hibbing Taconite’s mine life. Cleveland-Cliffs will immediately begin the work necessary to develop this quality ore body as an extension of Hibbing Taconite. The state’s mineral leases, combined with our own private mineral holdings at Nashwauk acquired by Cleveland-Cliffs in 2017, will provide more than two decades of additional ore reserves for Hibbing Taconite, preserving hundreds of good paying union jobs, and ensuring continued supply of iron ore pellets for Cleveland-Cliffs’ steel mills.”

Mr. Goncalves continued: “Cleveland-Cliffs appreciates the leadership of Governor Tim Walz and the great work of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, as well as the support of Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Secretary of State Steve Simon, Attorney General Keith Ellison and State Auditor Julie Blaha. This win-win outcome would not have been possible without the strong partnership of the United Steelworkers, particularly the USW Local 2705 at Hibbing Taconite, in addition to a new generation of dedicated Iron Range elected officials who are truly working for the betterment of the region, such as State Representative David Lislegard, State Senator Grant Hauschild and State Senator Rob Farnsworth.”

Mr. Goncalves concluded: “Today we celebrate the resilience of Hibbing Taconite, its workforce and the tremendous potential of these Nashwauk leases. Then, we immediately begin the hard work of securing the next generation of union jobs and economic opportunity for the Iron Range.”

The president of Local 2705, Chris Johnson, told WDIO, “This is the life line that Hibbing Taconite needed. Everybody should be breathing easier and smiling.”

Hibbing Mayor Pete Hyduke, who testified on Thursday, added, “What we are guaranteed is 750 jobs and 2000 spin off jobs. That’s critical. We know they are going to maintained decades into the future.”

Rep. Dave Lislegard sent a statement saying, “This is a fantastic day for the Iron Range. The seemingly endless 15-year debacle under the prior operators – full of missed deadlines, failed payments, and broken promises – has finally reached an end. I’ve worked hard to tell the story of the ways these bad actors have harmed our region and how we must learn from prior missteps. I’m deeply grateful to the DNR for all of their exhaustive work to get this process right. I’m also thankful for the Executive Council members who thoughtfully listened to the people on the Iron Range who have come together with a collective voice saying it’s time to go in a different direction. Particularly, I’m appreciative of Governor Walz for standing up for the workers, families, and communities of the Iron Range.”

Here’s reaction from Rep. Spencer Igo: “This is great news for everyone at HibTac and I expect that they will keep their operations running without interruption. Thank you to the countless people that have reached out to me over the last several months about this issue. It is an honor to partner with you and fight for our community in St. Paul.

Now, it’s time for all of us to work together to make sure that future investments and mining opportunities on the Iron Range can move forward so that our communities can reach their full potential. I am ready to work with the Governor’s office, the range delegation, and all stakeholders to make sure that we can move forward in an expedited manner with the permits needed so that we can continue to build the economy of tomorrow right here on the Iron Range and bring prosperity for generations to come.”

A statement from Senator Rob Farnsworth reads: “I’m glad the Nashwauk leases have been secured by Cleveland-Cliffs and the jobs at Hibbing Taconite have a bright future. Now it’s time to secure the proper permitting. I encourage the agencies to act swiftly and for all involved to show a good faith effort to keep this project moving forward. Mining has been done safely in Minnesota for generations and we can continue to protect our land and water while mining for the future.”