Reopening of Empire Mine would be boon for area, region

Mining has deep roots in this community, and we have to stand behind the position the Marquette County Board took last week when it recognized the importance of the potential reopening of the Empire Mine.

Under market pressure, the Empire was put into an indefinite idle in early August 2016 by its owner and operator Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. The company, though headquartered in Ohio, has had a presence in the Marquette Iron Range for over a century, and continues to run another major extraction operation in Marquette County, the Tilden Mine.

The mines have been running for such a lengthy time that after it was announced the Empire would be mothballed, it seemed almost like an impossibility that such an operation would cease to exist. But nonetheless, it did.

Hundreds of jobs were lost, and community and state leaders put into place a plan they hoped might help to fill at least a portion of that employment void. Some of that plan might have accomplished something, but for the most part, the Empire’s closure could not be fully remedied.

Now, Cliffs’ top executive — Chairman, President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves — said his company is mulling over an expansion of its operation, and pitting Michigan against Minnesota in a fight for the new investment.

Goncalves said Cliffs is looking at the possibility of reopening the Empire Mine and how those figures compare to opening a potential mining site in Nashwauk, Minnesota.

Neither option, it would seem, is a “sure thing.” But — economically speaking — it would be going against the region’s best interest if we were to offer anything but support for the reopening of the Empire Mine.

The Marquette County Board passed a resolution to that effect with unanimous support at its meeting Tuesday. Board members underscored the economic importance the Empire has had on the region, and noted the area’s long tradition of playing host to the industry.

The idling of the Empire, as the county resolution notes, has a negative economic impact of roughly $180 million on the region each year.

County board Chairman Gerald Corkin quoted the resolution in a recent Journal article on the matter. He said the reopening of the mine would turn that negative impact around “to increase commerce and economic prosperity in the region.”

“The importance of the reopening of the Empire Mine to the local economy cannot be overstated,” Corkin continued.

We can’t agree more.

Both the Empire and Tilden mines have provided hundreds of jobs and sustained hundreds of families throughout Superiorland. These people live here, play here, dine here and shop here. The dollars trickle down from miners’ pockets to shopkeepers’ coffers and into municipalities’ general funds in the form of property taxes.

In a Feb. 3 Journal article, Goncalves was reported to have said the expansion in its mining operations could mean the addition of up to 900 high-paying jobs, with Corkin last week saying some of those salaries are expected to be around $100,000 a year. Not a bad gig for the Upper Peninsula.

A petition has been started online at, where you can show your support for the reopening of the Empire Mine.

Regardless of your stance on the environmental side of mining, the economic importance of the Empire Mine to our region cannot go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Moreover, without the mining operations that have shaped this region over the past 170 years, many of our forebearers likely would not have settled in this region. And without mining, you might be reading a newspaper with some other name — or none at all.