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North Shore exhales as mine is set to reopen

The North Shore breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday as Cliffs Natural Resources announced the idled Northshore taconite operations, with a mine in Babbitt and processing and shipping center in Silver Bay, would resume production by May 15 after idling in December.

"It was great news to wake up to (Monday) morning," Lake County Commissioner Jeremy Hurd said. "To see that news come out (Monday) was just a wonderful way to start the day out and put a smile on your face. The community came together, not only in Silver Bay but around the area, to support the folks that are feeling the pain."

The community did band together with churches in Silver Bay hosting dinners for the community, particularly laid off workers. The dinners began last month at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay and are continuing in March and April. Originally the dinners were supposed to be held in Silver Bay ReUnion Hall, but were moved to WKS because the first venue did not have an industrial kitchen for cooking the foods.

Not only did the schools and churches come together for those affected by the shutdowns, local businesses helped provide and prepare the food for the dinners.

The owners of Julie's True Value was in the middle of a major remodel when the news of the shutdown hit, but chose to continue with it despite the unclear economic outlook.

"He showed some courage and he continues it today," Silver Bay Mayor Scott Johnson said.

Johnson said this shutdown was reminiscent of previous shutdowns, but the potential for it to extend longer was concerning for many in Silver Bay.

"If we had gone another quarter, I think we were probably going to start having some panic set in and have people make some life decisions and possibly move on," he said. "Cliffs has always been a good corporate neighbor and they talked to us about this situation when the shutdown occurred and the exact things they said needed to happen are the things that have happened."

Congressman Rick Nolan praised the work of everyone involved, not just the Congressional delegation, to get Northshore Mining back online.

"It hasn't been just the Congressional delegation," he said. "We've had the mining executives, steelworkers' union, community leaders, local government officials all coming to Washington, pressing the Congress, the Department of Commerce, International Trade Commission, the White House. The president's chief of staff met with all of these groups."

Nolan went on to say President Barack Obama and Denis McDonough were converts to the steel industry's cause and became strong advocates for Iron Range steel.

Congress and the president have instituted a number of tariffs of more than 250 percent on subsidized foreign steel, making it considerably more expensive to purchase steel produced in China or India.

"These high taxes and tariffs are the equivalent of a moratorium," Nolan said. "No one is going to pay that kind of money to buy these imported, often inferior steel products."

Earlier this month, the Department of Commerce announced new preliminary tariffs on imports of cold-rolled steel from seven different countries, including on Chinese steel set at 266 percent.

"Our miners and our steel workers are among the most efficient in the world, but they need an even playing field and that's what these tariffs are all about," Nolan said. "I think they are going to continue to show good positive results and in just a matter of time we'll go from the worst crises we've seen in steel pricing in our lifetime to getting back on track."

Rep. Rob Ecklund said he was relieved about the Northshore Mining operation gearing back up, but was still concerned about those miners who are still out of work on the Iron Range, some of whom have already run out of unemployment benefits. Ecklund and others from the Iron Range delegation remain hard at work in St. Paul trying to hammer out an unemployment benefits extension bill to go with the one already passed by the Senate.

While there are still plenty of unemployed miners and steelworkers on the Iron Range, Silver Bay seems to have weathered this storm and is looking forward to getting the mine reopened and back to business as usual.

"We saw this big tsunami coming, we knew it was going to hit," Johnson said. "Fortunately the water withdrew before it did a lot of damage."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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