United Taconite to celebrate 50 years with ceremony, tours
Over the last half-century, taconite iron ore from the mine in Eveleth went into some of the most famous automobiles ever made. Back in the days when cars and trucks were heavy with steel, millions of tons of Eveleth ore went into Mustangs, Thund...
Over the last half-century, taconite iron ore from the mine in Eveleth went into some of the most famous automobiles ever made.
Back in the days when cars and trucks were heavy with steel, millions of tons of Eveleth ore went into Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Fairlanes, Lincolns and F-150s.
They still call it the Thunderbird mine, even though T-birds stopped rolling off assembly lines in 2009. Down the road in Forbes, they still call it the Fairlane plant, even though the last U.S. Fairlane was built in 1970.
And even though the cars are lighter, and they may not be Fords, more than 5 million tons of processed taconite iron ore pellets start at United Taconite every year before making their way to Lake Superior by rail, and then by boat on to steel mills in Indiana and Ohio to make U.S. automobiles, trucks, refrigerators and airplanes.
On Sunday, United Taconite will celebrate 50 years of operations in Eveleth with speakers and mine tours open to the public.
Company officials said the anniversary event, free and open to the public, is an effort to show appreciation for employees, retirees and the Iron Range community. Speakers include Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan along with state lawmakers and top company and Steelworkers union officials.
The public will see what remains a very vital Minnesota mining operation 50 years after its start.
United Taconite is on pace to produce nearly 5.3 million tons of taconite iron ore pellets this year, its fourth straight year above
5 million tons and not far off the plant’s heyday of the early 1980s when a high of 5.9 million tons of pellets was produced.
The mine is located within the city limits of Eveleth, very visible just off U.S. Highway 53 as passersby move through neighboring Virginia. Production at the mine began in 1965, with crushed but still unprocessed ore sent by train from the open pit to the taconite processing plant at Forbes, about 10 miles to the south.
The original operation, called Eveleth Taconite, was a joint venture between giant Ford Motor Co. and Ogelbay Norton, at the time a giant in both mining and shipping ore. The mine saw gradual growth through the 1970s and, like the rest of the Iron Range, had boom times last until the early ’80s.
EvTac, as it became known, recovered into the 1990s. But, in May 2003, Eveleth Mines LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and ceased operations. Later that same year, Cliffs joined with Laiwu Steel of China to resurrect the Eveleth operations under the new name United Taconite. In 2008, Cliffs purchased Laiwu’s 30 percent and now has 100 percent ownership.
United, often known simply as Utac, now employs 514 people and has an annual economic impact of $273 million. Of the six major taconite facilities operating in Minnesota, only Cliffs Northshore Mining and U.S. Steel’s Minntac plant, which opened in the 1950s, are older than United.
United Taconite has been in the news recently after telling the Minnesota Department of Transportation that it needs to mine under what is now U.S. Highway 53 in Virginia. Transportation officials are now scrambling to figure out a new route for the highway to make way for the expanded mine. The company says it needs the ore under the highway to maintain its unique pellet recipe for its steel mill customers for decades to come.
State officials hope to have a new route picked for the highway late this year with the road ready for traffic sometime in 2017 or 2018.
Cliffs also has been in the news after a shareholder revolt of sorts in July that saw much of its corporate leadership team replaced by New York-based hedge fund Casablanca Capital. So far it’s unclear what Casablanca will do with Cliff’s Minnesota operations. The company has urged Cliffs to sell off its overseas operations and focus on U.S. facilities.
If you go
What: United 50-year celebration and mine tours
Where: Range Recreation Civic Center on Hat Trick Avenue, just off U.S. Highway 53 in Eveleth.
* 1 p.m. program with guest speakers
* 2-4:30 p.m. mine tours every half hour (long pants and closed-toe flat shoes required; children younger than 10 must remain on the bus)