Marquette County Board supports potential reopening of Empire Mine

Pellet production at Empire Mine has come to and indefinate idle as of Wednesday. An estimated 400 jobs have been eliminated as a result of the shutdown. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to support the reopening of the Empire Mine by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. at Tuesday night’s meeting, with the board recognizing the major economic importance of the Empire Mine in Marquette County and the long mining tradition in the Upper Peninsula.

Chairman Gerald Corkin read from the resolution, which was a late addition to the agenda, at the meeting.

“The county of Marquette is closely connected to Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. from a standpoint of shared history and economic ties and partnership in economic development,” Corkin said. “The idling of the Empire Mine has approximately (an) $180 million annual negative economic impact on the region and the reopening of the Empire Mine would turn that 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. Therefore, be it resolved that the county of Marquette encourages and supports the CCI decision to reopen the Empire Mine, be it further resolved that the county of Marquette commends Chairman, President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves at CCI for considering reopening the Empire Mine and continuing to invest in the Marquette County region.”

Corkin noted the economic value of the Empire Mine reopening to the area, explaining that it would bring hundreds of “new high-quality jobs” to Marquette County, some of which are salaried at around $100,000 a year.

Corkin explained that while the reopening of the Empire Mine isn’t a sure thing, the county is hopeful.

“They’re kind of looking between Minnesota and the Empire as to what they might do, and I guess there is a chance that it could reopen, although we don’t want to send out any wrong signals that it’s (going to) happen (for sure),” Corkin said. “One of the things they would have to deal with in Minnesota is the permitting process … That could take a number of years. With their new (hot briquetted iron) plant in Toledo, which they’re going to open, hopefully, by 2020, they’re going to need pellets. So, maybe time could be on our side where they could take a look at spending $500 million to uncover 15 years of ore at the Empire Mine, so there’s a chance it could happen, but it’s not something we can say, ‘Yeah, it’s going to happen.'”

Although the county board has not always agreed with Cliffs on every matter, Corkin said “we support them 1,000 percent as far as being here in the county.”

The resolution was amended to note the board’s support for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. continuing to work with Cliffs based on a suggestion from Commissioner Joe Derocha.

“We fully support MEDC and its efforts to help Cliffs … to continue doing business here in Marquette County,” Derocha said, noting that Marquette County looks forward to continued dialogue with Cliffs.

The board fully supported this amendment to the resolution.

“Certainly a good thing to add … this is the real Project Empire,” Corkin said. “We need $500 million to uncover the overburden off of the ore body down there, so some funding from MEDC in some way could certainly help put … people back to work, so it’s a good suggestion that Mr. Derocha has made.”

Amy Clickner, CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership, a regional economic development resource, was happy to hear that the resolution was added to the agenda and unanimously passed by the board, as she says the resolution sends a strong message that is “exactly what we want to be saying as a community.”

“I have to say, the county board has always supported Cleveland Cliffs and mining, so I’m really glad that they added it to the agenda,” Clickner said. “If you look at all the support they’ve provided over the years … from an economic development standpoint, that speaks volumes to say we’re open for business in the mineral extraction industry.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.