Keewatin Taconite will reopen in March 2017

Keewatin Taconite as seen from the air. PHOTO: Peter Clevenstine, Minnesota DNR

WDIO reports that Keewatin Taconite will reopen in March 2017, ending a 19-month shutdown.

U.S. Steel announced it signed pellet contracts with third party steelmakers, providing the spark to reopen the long dormant Keewatin plant.

KeeTac was the last taconite mine on the Range still closed after last year’s steel downturn, which at one time had half the region’s miners on layoff.

KeeTac’s iron ore pellets previously fed U.S. Steel’s Granite City steel mill in Illinois. With the blast furnaces at that mill still in the cold, it wasn’t clear how the Keewatin facility could reopen. U.S. Steel answered the question by finding new customers.

Iron ore prices have increased steadily in the fourth quarter of 2016. Other Iron Range plants increased production to meet demand.

Now, more than 300 laid-off United Steelworkers will get callbacks in early January for mandatory safety training and other preparation for restarting the plant. U.S. Steel wants to start production of iron ore pellets in March. The plant produces about 6 million tons of taconite pellets annually when running at full strength.

Keewatin Taconite workers saw their unemployment benefits run out months ago. Many had either taken other work or gone back to college for retraining. I worked with a number of these workers in a class I taught last summer.

For many of those workers, this call will be welcome indeed. While some of the younger miners were excited for a new career, others were only a few years from retirement at KeeTac. Getting hired in a new career in your late 50s or 60s is no easy task. If Keewatin Taconite can stay running for a few years, many of them will benefit by staying with the company.

Still, many of the workers left the area or took other work during this time. It will be interesting to see how many of the callbacks are successful, and whether or not U.S. Steel needs to do some hiring to fill in gaps.

Many recently laid off by nearby Magnetation will welcome news of hiring at KeeTac.

U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi made headlines weeks ago with a very optimistic interview on CNBC. Like many in the steel industry, the election of billionaire Donald Trump and his installation of a corporate-friendly, anti-China administration, had Longhi seeing green.

It remains to be seen what this recent steel surge will mean for workers, or the long term interests of the economy as a whole. I wrote about this in a recent column. We also appear to be on the verge of a trade war, according to this Reuters analysis, the effects of which could be very unpredictable.

Comments

  1. Andrew Priadka says:

    US Steel is a dying industry. Trump isn’t going to bring back US Steel anymore than he’s going to bring back a dying dirty coal industry. That ship has sailed in the rest of the world. The US is the only place clinging to the past.
    Its good news for people that need jobs in the short term but hopefully the region continues to look for a more diverse industry base and young people continue to go to school and learn new skills. The news of the mine opening is great but its not a long term solution for a region that is too dependent on mining for jobs. Mines will only open temporarily or until the next steel market crash. I would love to see the expansion of technology, medical, and sustainable energy companies in northern Minnesota. Industries that are early in their life cycle and can provide employment for decades and provide a more diverse economy that isn’t tied to the price of one commodity.

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