Cleveland-Cliffs CEO continues push for Nashwauk permit
FORBES — Cleveland-Cliffs' CEO made his case to reporters Friday on why he believes his company deserves a permit to mine a site near Nashwauk.
At a news conference held in United Taconite's general office in Forbes, Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves told reporters he was eager to mine his property in Nashwauk, but can't without a permit to mine.
Cliffs remains in a feud with Mesabi Metallics, which plans to finish a taconite mine, pellet plant and iron plant at the site. Cliffs and Mesabi Metallics both have mineral leases at the site, creating a complicated quilt of ownership, but only Mesabi Metallics has a permit to mine there, preventing Cliffs from mining on land where it has mineral leases.
"The land's mine, and I want that freaking permit," Goncalves said.
As Cliffs continues to post high revenues, Goncalves said the company has more money than projects to spend it on. And unlike Mesabi Metallics, which announced a potential financer for the project Wednesday, Goncalves said Cliffs could fund a project itself.
"So it's coming to a point that we have decision to make. If we don't have a project to deploy the capital, then I'm going to have to start returning capital to the shareholders," Goncalves said.
But it needs to happen soon, he said.
"I'm not going to wait for this thing forever," he said.
He did not provide a timeline of how long he was willing to wait.
Goncalves said he's interested in the entire site, but doesn't want to buy any of the equipment or buildings on the site from Mesabi Metallics.
Mesabi Metallics spokesperson Darin Broton responded to Goncalves' comments in an email to the News Tribune on Friday evening.
"Mesabi Metallics is going to complete its mine plan so it can mine ore, make pellets and produce iron in Nashwauk," Broton said.
Jeff Johnson, a Republican candidate for Minnesota governor, was also at United Taconite on Friday, and met with Goncalves before the news conference.
Goncalves has not yet met with Tim Walz, the DFL candidate for governor, but is open to it, he said.
In his meeting with Johnson, Goncalves said he told Johnson he wants the next governor to "hazmat the DNR" or get rid of current Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff and commissioners who are slow to approve mining projects and refused to transfer the leases to Cliffs.
In a Mesabi Daily News op-ed last month, DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr explained that withdrawing or transferring leases would not be so simple, and could force the project "back to square one."
"Lease termination is certainly not an action that we would take lightly and we will thoroughly evaluate all possible options before acting. While we understand the frustration with a decade of delays, we must consider the impact of our actions in order to prevent additional years of delay," Landwehr wrote.
In a lawsuit last month, Cliffs challenged the DNR's refusal to modify Mesabi Metallics' mining permits and prohibit them from conducting mining operations on properties owned or controlled by Cliffs.
In a letter to the Iron Range last month, Gov. Mark Dayton maintained that Cliffs could have taken ownership of the project once before, but a federal bankruptcy judge awarded it to Chippewa Capital Partners, Mesabi Metallics' parent company, instead.
"I understand some people's desire to pull the state's mineral leases from this project and transfer them to Cleveland Cliffs," Dayton wrote. "Unfortunately, such a switch would not be nearly as simple as some are saying."
Chippewa Capital Partners took over the former Essar site near Nashwauk in June 2017, pulling it out of bankruptcy in December 2017.