Magnetation iron ore mining lease approved

The Minnesota Executive Council unanimously approved an iron ore mining lease Wednesday as part of a continued mining renaissance on the Iron Range.

The council, made up of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state, granted the lease to Magnetation. The rapidly growing Grand Rapids-based company produces iron concentrate from scrap rock left over from abandoned mines.

The new mine near Coleraine will include a more traditional open pit mine, said Magnetation COO Matt Lehtinen.

"We're trying to build a business for 50 years, so to accomplish that, we need to secure in-ground mineral deposits," Lehtinen said.

He said ore from the new mine will supply a new pellet plant the company is building in Indiana. Magnetation plans to develop its comprehensive project plan for the mine in the next five years. Lehtinen anticipates Magnetation's Minnesota workforce to grow from 220 employees now to around 500. He hopes to begin mining in five to ten years.

Magnetation currently operates three concentrate plants on the Iron Range, with plans for two more, including one in Coleraine near the proposed new mine.

The lease area includes a gun club as well as ski, bike and snowmobile trails that the Department of Natural Resources is working to move. It's also adjacent to the Canisteo mine pit currently filled with over 300 feet of water. Lehtinen said the company eventually would seek to drain the pit.

The DNR anticipates the new mine could generate between $50 and $220 million for the state's Permanent School Trust Fund during the life of the mine.

Other companies are also looking to open new iron ore mining operations on the range. Essar Steel plans to open a new mine and taconite pellet plant near Nashwauk early next year. Mesabi Nugget hopes to open a mine to feed its iron pellet operation in Hoyt Lakes.

"Iron ore is in a boom right now. A big reason for our success has been our ability to execute very quickly, to get to market before prices settle out at a lower level long-term," Lehtinen said.

Editor's note: This story has been modified from the original version to correct the composition of the state's executive council.

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