Mesabi Daily News: IT’S ABOUT TIME GOOD NEWS CAME FOR KEETAC
Twenty-fifteen really beat the Iron Range down.
It was almost personal — one mine after another idle, workers sent home and the local economy tattered. It was tough.
This year provided relief, at least in terms of the mining industry.
Cliffs Natural Resources restarted Northshore and United Taconite. U.S. Steel and Cliffs each progressed on mine expansions at Minntac and Hibbing Taconite, respectfully. PolyMet moved forward, Resolution 54 was defeated and Twin Metals — while “stymied” as our governor puts it — appears likely to have a fighting chance.
But amid all the hoopla of that good news, the wave of mining fortunes missed workers at Keewatin Taconite. They were notably still not back to work, and as recently as last week, still without a timetable to return.
So what a way to send 2016 out the door when U.S. Steel announced Thursday that Keetac was coming back. It was one of the final pieces of good news we’ve been looking forward to on the Iron Range.
There’s a few factors playing into this that should be recognized.
The first was acknowledged by U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi earlier this month. The incoming Donald Trump administration is giving manufacturing and other industries more optimism.
Indeed, if his infrastructure promises prove true, the steel industry could be buzzing with activity reminiscent of its recent heyday. Even if that’s slow to start, the expectation of less environmental hurdles will help reduce costs — which are often redundant and sometimes over-bearing.
The other factor in this was work done by the current administration to enact steel tariffs on imported steel. It was an effort guided by Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves and Congressman Rick Nolan, D-Minn.
We can’t ignore the impact the tariffs had on the industry, though it was slow to come.
Nolan was adamant about one thing that seemed a little far-fetched: U.S. Steel would reopen Keetac when the market proved stable.
Keetac had been idle for 18 months — six months shy of the congressional term Nolan was defending.
We heard the talk, as many around the Iron Range did, that Keetac may never come back. That in an abbreviated era of wayward supply and demand, it was the odd mine out. Keetac was always the first close, always the last to reopen, but after the hard downfall of 2015 the rumors of its final demise seemed reasonable enough.
It wasn’t to be.
Through all the efforts of the last year in reinvigorating the Range mining industry, chief among the men and women deserving credit for Keetac’s return is Nolan.
Moving forward, we’ll be looking to Nolan to continue the fight for the Range’s way of life, whether that be for Twin Metals, U.S.-made steel in infrastructure, or any other issues that demand a heavy hand in Washington.
For now, though, we take our hats off to the workers at Keetac, who can put their 2017 New Year’s hats on with a smile and newfound job security.