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DNR, Walz respond to Cliffs' Nashwauk demand

Cleveland-Cliffs President, Chairman, and CEO Lourenco Goncalves (standing) answers questions from the audience during Tuesday’s lunch. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

State officials said they were closely watching the Nashwauk mine site conflict, but did not give into Cleveland-Cliffs' demand for a rival company's mineral leases at the site.

At a "State of the Company" luncheon at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm Tuesday, Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves asked Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to give his company mineral leases that belong to Mesabi Metallics for the former Essar Steel site in Nashwauk.

In an email to the News Tribune late Tuesday night, DNR Deputy Commissioner Barb Naramore explained that if Mesabi Metallics' mineral leases were to revert to the state, the leases would be sold to another company in either a competitive lease sale or negotiated lease sale.

"I should emphasize that, in neither case would we be 'giving' the leases to any entity," Naramore said. "DNR's leasing decisions are based on a careful evaluation of alternatives and the state's best interests, and Executive Council approval is required for mineral leases."

In August, amid calls from Goncalves and mining advocates to transfer leases to Cliffs, former DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said it was unlikely to revoke or transfer Mesabi Metallics' leases because it would send "the project back to square one."

In January the DNR, under the leadership of Commissioner Sarah Strommen, a Walz appointee, said Mesabi Metallics' permits and leases were being reviewed for compliance violations.

Naramore would not comment on the status of that review.

"That review is ongoing and we have no findings to report," Naramore said.

Asked by the News Tribune if Walz would or could take leases from Mesabi Metallics and if he had a preference on which company controlled the Nashwauk site, Teddy Tschann, Walz's press secretary, emphasized in an email Wednesday evening that Mesabi Metallics still has the leases but that the DNR was reviewing the company's "compliance with its obligations to the State."

"The Governor understands the importance of this project and is continuing to monitor the situation," Tschann said.

Goncalves endorses Klobuchar for president

A recorded message from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is played during Tuesday’s meeting. Steve Kuchera / DNT

Speaking to the crowd gathered at the Minnesota Discovery Center Wednesday, Goncalves endorsed U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's run for president.

Goncalves said Klobuchar, a Democrat, has been a powerful supporter of the Iron Range and helped champion anti-steel dumping measures that led to Minnesota mines reopening after a 2015 downturn.

"Amy is busy running for president of the United States, which I believe that she has a real chance of getting — despite of all the busy field and everything," Goncalves said. "For the record, she has full support and endorsement."

Although Klobuchar did not attend the luncheon, she sent a four-minute long video message that was shown at the beginning of the event.

"When it comes to the success of the Iron Ore industry in northern Minnesota, it's critical that companies are able to grow and expand," Klobuchar said in the video. "In recent years, Cleveland-Cliffs has focused its energies on revitalizing iron ore mines and processing plants in our country."

Ida Rukavina, a Klobuchar staff member, attended Tuesday's luncheon, as did staff members representing U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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