Lines, roads and tracks CHECK! Now Essar can build

Construction of Essar Steel Minnesota’s major project northwest of Nashwauk continues to make spurts of progress. This week, Minnesota Power announced that the electrical infrastructure is now complete, meaning that we now have power lines, new roads and fresh railroad spurs leading to a big brown field adorned with massive concrete footings. Nearly all of the $70 million-plus in public funding has been encumbered.

Plant construction will begin in earnest this year, we are told, and Essar will be mining and processing taconite for its Algoma steel mill on the other side of Lake Superior late next year, according to company officials. The original proposal called for this to become a value-added facility, where ore is processed into low-grade steel on site — a major new accomplishment for the region. However, the company’s statements and most learned speculation indicates that would be a long way off, if it ever happens at all.

Other than this, there isn’t much news attached to the construction project. The people of Nashwauk have pretty much staked the town’s future on this project. Even so, most of the downtown is still for sale and the town’s restaurant closed once again months ago. The school district, bolstered by a referendum a few years ago, now finds itself dealing with many of the same problems.

Like many of the big economic stories on the Iron Range, this is a story of waiting. If it weren’t for the robust production at the region’s major existing taconite plants this area would be in a deep recession. But Taconite is, thus far, projecting a mood of confidence for the Range above what might be considered a highly tenuous situation.

I drive by the construction site at Essar most days and can sometimes see the massive construction cranes peeking above the trees. I’ll keep you posted on what I see.


  1. Even though my area doesn’t consider itself part of Da Range, we are affected by all things Range. And even though hundreds of “cabins” (ie pretty large houses) have gone up on the various lakes around here, the towns are suffering, stores stand vacant or for sale. Part of that has to do with an aging population. Part because of the recession, and a big part because so very many people are willing to drive 30, 50, or 100 miles to a bigger store, a bigger mall, etc. And, I’ve been told, the people who have the newer lake “cabins” just come for a few weekends plus a couple of weeks each summer, whereas in the past, many of the cabins were occupied all summer long by families who took part in the life of the near by towns. So even if we weren’t so ore dependent, there would be big changes. I don’t know if enough people who are actually on the Range think about these changes.

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