Sucker-punched, but still loved by mining

Minnesota State Roundup

Published January 1, 2007  | January 2007 issue

Recent announcements—both good and bad—in the small northern city of Hoyt Lakes embody the on-again, off-again heartache that can result from the Iron Range's historic attachment to mining.

First the bad news: A proposal for an innovative iron nugget processing facility was scrapped in late November. In the development stage for the better part of five years, Mesabi Nugget was born out of the 2001 bankruptcy of LTV Steel Mining, which put 1,400 out of work. Mesabi Nugget was going to use Japanese processing techniques to create an iron nugget of higher quality and value (called reduced iron), breathing life into this small town of 1,900. But project leader Cleveland-Cliffs pulled out of the project when it said the various parties could not reach agreement on matters "necessary to move forward" with the new facility.

But the good news could more than offset the bad news: The old LTV facilities are being prepped for production once again, but this time for precious metals like copper, nickel and platinum. PolyMet bought the LTV plant at a fire sale price and will be renovating, retrofitting and adding on to facilities with the hope of rock-crushing sometime in 2008. Though the metals being mined are in low concentrations, the taconite process of concentrating low-grade ore is being applied to these different metals.

In the end, Hoyt Lakes should come out OK. If the PolyMet facility does start production, it is expected to employ 400 full time, while the iron nugget plant projected about one-quarter of that.

Ronald A. Wirtz