Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz wrote a letter to U.S. Steel Corp. and Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. on Monday urging the companies to ensure the continued operation of both Minntac and Hibbing Taconite into the future. And the following day, Lourenco Goncalves, chairman, president and CEO of Cleveland-Cliffs, responded.

"As the majority owner and manager of the Hibbing Taconite joint venture, Cleveland-Cliffs continues to advance options for mining beyond the current reserve base of five years, including acquisition of lands adjacent to Hibbing Taconite," Goncalves wrote.

Cliffs owns a smattering of land at the never-completed Mesabi Metallics mining facility in Nashwauk. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has been encouraging U.S. Steel and Arcelor Mittal to provide Hibtac with access to the neighboring Carmi Campbell Reserve. That land is currently leased by U.S. Steel's Keetac facility, DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards reported late last year.

Unless Hibbing Taconite gains access to additional mineral reserves, Goncalves has warned the operation, which employs about 750 people, will be forced to close in about five years.

Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves talks about the company during a Northland event in 2019. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)
Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves talks about the company during a Northland event in 2019. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)

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Goncalves said Cliffs and U.S. Steel representatives engaged in fruitless talks regarding gaining access to the Carmi Campbell Reserve from August 2019 to December 2020.

"The unsuccessful negotiations with U.S. Steel were a very important part of our decision to acquire land in Nashwauk, in order to provide us with the mine life extension we need at Hibbing Taconite. If Cleveland-Cliffs controls Nashwauk, not only Hibbing Taconite will be saved, but we would also have the opportunity to build a direct-reduction plant on the site, creating the basis of a future steel mill in Nashwauk, locally supplied with HBI (hot briquetted iron)," he wrote.

Goncalves went on to say that he would appreciate any assistance the state can render "in convening the parties to work quickly toward facilitating a viable option with the Carmi Campbell leases" as soon as possible.

Amanda Malkowski, a spokeswoman for U. S. Steel, responded to Goncalves' missive, with an emailed statement.

"U.S. Steel recognizes the importance of Hibtac and all iron mining operations to the communities, employees and businesses on the Iron Range," she said. "We have and will continue to work collaboratively with the governor and the Iron Range legislative delegation to seek a workable solution that will benefit all concerned stakeholders."