Grandpa Taconite turns 56 today

Today marks the 56th anniversary of commercial production of taconite pellets on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. The first pellets rolled off the line at the Reserve Mining plant at Silver Bay, generated from ore mined inland near Babbitt on the northeastern Mesabi Iron Range. Today this plant still operates as Cliffs Natural Resources’ Northshore Mining.

Taconite mining, you might recall, replaced the rich natural iron ore mining that made Minnesota’s Iron Range region famous, winning two world wars and industrializing the nation. Taconite is the reason there is still an Iron Range to speak of.

So if Iron Range-based commercial taconite was a person instead of a large-scale economic concept, this person would be 56 — near the age of many actual local miners who now approach retirement. Additionally, new production and hundreds of permanent jobs are likely as soon as 2012, with the final permitting of an expansion at Keewatin Taconite and the ongoing construction of Essar Steel Minnesota’s Nashwauk taconite mine facility. More controversial efforts to begin nonferrous mining in the region also provides some dramatic possibilities.

There’s more to the story, though: factors that the region’s leaders and citizens should take into account as the region’s fortunes turn for the better. I’ve written about this for a piece I’ll be sharing soon.

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