BOVEY - The hits just keep on coming to the Range's economy and its workers and communities.
It was another day for even more bad mining news on Wednesday. This time ground zero was Magnetation and the western end of the Iron Range.
But how troubling and widespread will be the Magnetation layoffs are still uncertain and two months away, according to Matt Lehtinen, president of Grand Rapids-based company that repurposes mining waste into an iron ore concentrate.
Magnetation LLC announced the quite possible curtailment of iron ore production next year at its Bovey plant, which could hold layoffs of more than six months.
The announcement came with the federal notice that's required at least 60 days ahead of layoffs of more than 50 workers for extended durations.
Lehtinen told the Associated Press that up to 163 workers could be affected, but some could angle for open positions at the company's other plants in the region.
The notice says nothing would occur until after Jan. 31, but Lehtinen said the scope of the production shift would be known within the next month.
Magnetation has other mining plants near Keewatin and Grand Rapids, and also co-operated a plant near Chisholm.
Magnetation, which filed for bankruptcy in May, extracts and processes more than 1 million metric tons of iron ore per year. Most of the product is shipped to a Steel Dynamics plant in Indiana for steel production.
"While any operating curtailment is unfortunate, we must balance our current production with our customers' needs to sustain our business in these challenging markets," Magnetation chief executive officer Larry Lehtinen said, noting that it's unclear how long the production slowdown would last, but the company is hopeful to resume operations sometime in 2016.
Magnetation's announcement follows by a day the decision by Cliffs Natural Resources to idle its Northshore operations in Babbitt and Silver Bay by Dec. 1, affecting about 500 workers.
That will leave half of the Range's six taconite plants idled - Northshore, United Taconite and Keewatn Taconite.
In addition, the Mesabi Nugget pig iron plant in Hoyt Lakes and Mining Resources in Chisholm are shuttered, perhaps permanently. And now there's Magnetation.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said it is "imperative" that a special session be called to approve extended unemployment benefits for steelworkers who will soon run out of their maximum allotment.
That session would likely be extended itself to address high unemployment and poverty among black Minnesotans. That was the proposal of DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook, which the governor quickly endorsed.
That would provide a Band-Aid to the nexus of the problem - illegal foreign steel imports that are still in the U.S. pipeline and seemingly in no hurry to get out.
Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Mark Phillips told the AP that the problems that are devastating the ore and steel industries are pretty much out of local or state control.
"We haven't seen where all these things line up. It's a global issue," Phillips said. "It's not something we or the state can do to flip a switch in a different direction."
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