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Gov. Dayton tours Mesabi Metallics, meets with Iron Range leaders

Minnesota state Sen. David Tomassoni, left, and Gov. Mark Dayton talk to members of the media Tuesday at Nashwauk City Hall. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service

NASHWAUK, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton spent Tuesday, Sept. 11, in Nashwauk discussing the future of the Mesabi Metallics mine site with company officials and Iron Range politicians.

In a news conference following his meeting with Iron Range mayors Tuesday afternoon, Dayton said he'd like to see more progress and plans made by Mesabi Metallics but remained hopeful that the company will finish the taconite mine, pellet plant and iron plant near Nashwauk under new management. Dayton also met with Gary Heasley, interim CEO of Mesabi Metallics, Tuesday morning.

"There's no other option. This is like driving on a bumpy road with twists and turns but a cliff on either side," Dayton said, adding later that the process would have to begin all over again if the company were to fail.

Dayton said Mesabi Metallics will spend another $30-$40 million on additional engineering plans for the site and construction could ramp up by March. The pellet plant must be completed by the end of 2019.

Darin Broton, a spokesperson for Mesabi Metallics, said crews are already onsite, working on the pellet plant and various buildings.

"As we told the Governor this morning, Mesabi Metallics and Chippewa Capital Partners continue to invest in engineering and construction on the site to move this project forward," Heasley said in a statement.

It's been a turbulent few weeks for the company. After winning back key mineral leases from the state in July, an ownership and management dispute erupted between founder Tom Clarke and owner Nubai Global Investment Limited, with each side claiming they had ousted the other.

Last month, a court sided with Nubai and banned Clarke from representing himself as an employee.

Meanwhile, a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware sided with competitor Cleveland-Cliffs in a mineral lease dispute, creating a complicated quilt of ownership at the Nashwauk site between the two companies.

During this turmoil, officials, including at least 16 Iron Range mayors, have questioned the state's July reinstatement of mineral leases to the company.

The frustration and struggle over the Nashwauk site has persisted for over a decade when Essar Steel Minnesota began building facilities there before abandoning the project in bankruptcy.

"We've all been burned so many times," Dayton said.

Clarke's Chippewa Capital Partners, Mesabi Metallics' parent company, took over the former Essar site near Nashwauk in June 2017, pulling it out of bankruptcy in December 2017.

"We've been working on it for a long time, and boy — hopefully this is the one," Minnesota State Sen. David Tomassoni said during the press conference.

"They're very well intended," Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Mark Phillips said of Mesabi Metallics.

When asked if he felt more hopeful after Tuesday's meetings, Dayton paused for a moment and said, "Yeah, as my mother said, actions speak louder than words and I'll wait to see the action."

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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