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Future of former LTV site still under negotiation

Negotiations continue next week on the future use of the old LTV taconite plant in Hoyt Lakes. The site, now owned by Cleveland-Cliffs, is being considered for a copper and nickel recovery operation.

Negotiations continue next week on the future use of the old LTV taconite plant in Hoyt Lakes. The site, now owned by Cleveland-Cliffs, is being considered for a copper and nickel recovery operation.
Teck Cominco, a Canadian based worldwide mining company, is still moving forward with plans to develop copper and nickel deposits on the Iron Range. Plans to extract precious metals also have been put on hold.
"The Mesaba Project is still in a very early stage," said general manager John Key, speaking Wednesday at the Minnesota Mining Symposium in Duluth. "We will continue to proceed until we identify all risks. Once we're confident, development can proceed at a fast pace."
Key said the deposits were discovered and explored in the 1970s and '80s, but the technology didn't exist to profitably extract the metals. After his company developed processes to get the minerals, it began looking for a mineral deposit to fit the technology.
He explained that the Babbitt deposit fit the bill for several reasons, and Cominco believes it has the potential to be exploited to the tune of about 1 billion tons.
Key praised Minnesota's pro-mining political climate and public support. "After being in Alaska for the last 6-1/2 years, this is a very welcome change," he said, and noted that the community already has a mining support system in place with vendors and services.
He said Cliffs and Cominco have had ongoing dialogue on converting the plant from taconite to copper and nickel. They are scheduled to continue negotiations April 18.
"The concentrator sitting there will take $100 million to refurbish it," he said. "The facility can have a second life."
The project hopes to tap the $80 million 21st Century Fund, which was established by the state to help keep Minnesota's mining industry competitive.
"The 21st Century Fund will find it a good and stable project to invest in," Key said. "Front-end money is critical. We have spent a lot of time talking to the IRRRB and the legislative delegation."
He also hinted that without significant financial help, it is unlikely the project will move forward. It is more risk than we could assume, Key said.
Last year, representatives from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board toured one of Cominco's mines that is similar to what is being proposed near Babbitt.
The company has taken one bulk sample for testing and is planning a much larger future test. Key said they will need a 100-day supply of concentrate to process in British Columbia to be able to design the Mesaba plant, which will have a capacity of 120,000 tons a year.
He said the current plans do not allow for precious metal recovery as previously considered, but that residue will be stored for future use.
Mike Johnson, general manager of the Cliff Erie plant, formerly LTV, said the bulk sample research will determine the viability of the project.

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