SILVER BAY, Minn. — Cleveland-Cliffs is calling back some of its laid-off Northshore Mining workers. Area politicians say the company told them the mine and pellet plant will reopen in April after sitting idle for nearly a year.
But the company won’t get that specific with the press.
“At this time, Cleveland-Cliffs is calling back some workers to Northshore Mining,” Cliffs spokesperson Pat Persico said in an email to the Duluth News Tribune. “We will provide more details when we decide when and at what capacity this operation will be brought back online.”
Persico declined to say how many workers would be called back.
Cliffs laid off more than 400 of Northshore’s 580 employees when it idled its iron ore mine in Babbitt and pellet plant in Silver Bay in May amid a royalties dispute and as the use of scrap metal in electric arc furnaces reduced the need for its pellets.
Cliffs previously said April is the earliest the facilities could reopen.
Gov. Tim Walz issued a news release Monday saying he was “celebrating the news that Cleveland-Cliffs will restart its mining operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt in April.”
Silver Bay Mayor Wade LeBlanc told the News Tribune on Monday that a Cliffs representative confirmed that morning that Northshore would be opening in April.
“It’s the best news in the world for our community,” LeBlanc said.
And a news release issued Monday by the office of state Sen. Grant Hauschild, D-Hermantown, said Hauschild “had received confirmation from Cleveland-Cliffs that the mining company is beginning to contact miners about reopening their Babbitt and Silver Bay plants in early April.”
A spokesperson for state Rep. Roger Skraba, R-Ely, said he was among the area legislators notified of Cliffs’ April reopening.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also issued a statement Monday afternoon.
“I’m glad mining operations will be reopening in Babbitt and Silver Bay and the miners will be returning to work,” Klobuchar said.
Cliffs has tried to get out of what it has called “absurdly high” royalty fees it pays to Mesabi Trust — a publicly traded trust that collects royalties from Cliffs based on the volume of shipments from Northshore, the price of taconite and the amount of taconite that was mined from land owned by the trust — namely the Peter Mitchell Mine in Babbitt, which supplies Northshore with ore.
In an Oct. 14 news release, Mesabi Trust said it initiated arbitration against Cliffs, seeking damages from what it called Cliffs’ “underpayment of royalties in 2020, 2021, and 2022” and declaratory relief on the trust’s “entitlement to certain documentation and to the time the (Cliffs’) royalty obligation accrues on internal production.”
Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, which manages Mesabi Trust, was closed Monday for Presidents Day and could not be reached for comment.
Persico, Cliffs’ spokesperson, did not respond to the News Tribune’s email seeking comment on the progress of the arbitration and whether royalty fees had changed.
Last month, Walz signed a bipartisan bill that extended unemployment benefits for laid-off miners by an additional six months after many exhausted their 26 weeks of benefits by November.
With the extension, the miners will receive unemployment insurance through the facility reopening.