Part of LTV plant is demolished
HOYT LAKES -- Erie Mining Co.'s iron ore pellet plant was built to last. "There's a lot of good steel in that plant," said Neil Shields, 87, of Aurora, who worked at the plant from the time it opened in 1957 to when it closed in 2001. "It was bui...
HOYT LAKES -- Erie Mining Co.'s iron ore pellet plant was built to last.
"There's a lot of good steel in that plant," said Neil Shields, 87, of Aurora, who worked at the plant from the time it opened in 1957 to when it closed in 2001. "It was built to stand from now to when hell froze over, that's the way I look at it. But that's neither here nor there anymore.
Well, neither is the plant.
A four-story section of the taconite plant - the east side of the pelletizer - shook, shuddered and partially collapsed Tuesday as a demolition crew set off charges to raze the mammoth structure. It was the second taconite plant to be built in Northeastern Minnesota.
An Alabama-based construction firm, Salrecon LLC, is salvaging the 50-year-old pellet plant.
Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., which managed the taconite facility when it closed, sold the building to Salrecon for salvage.
For thousands of miners, the pellet plant was their livelihood, a place that forged lifetime friendships and a piece of Iron Range history.
"When I first came there, the dust was so bad you could cut it with a knife and haul it out," said Shields, who was still working at the plant at age 82 when it closed under LTV Steel Corp. bankruptcy. "But we got better control of the furnaces, and that stopped a lot of the dust. It was a good place to work. A lot of people didn't like it because of the dust and heat, but I had worked at a smelter in Nevada and that was a lot worse."
An estimated 35,000 tons of steel from the building will be salvaged, according to Mark Sutich, a Salrecon site project manager. All the steel will be recycled, he said. He expects the remainder of the plant demolition to take nine months.
The plant was built following iron ore pellet production success at "pre-tac," a pilot plant that operated from 1948 to 1952 near Aurora. Before the production of iron ore pellets from low-grade taconite, Iron Range miners dug high-quality natural iron ore from the earth.
When it opened in 1957, the plant was owned by Bethlehem Steel, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Interlake Steel and Steel Company of Canada. The building was erected around 27 vertical shaft furnaces.
From 1957 to 2001, the plant produced 328.9 million tons of iron ore pellets.
Until closing in 2001 under LTV Steel Corp. ownership, it was the longest continuously operating taconite processing plant in the world.