ELY — Twin Metals Minnesota and the building trades sealed a strong partnership Wednesday in advance of the company’s construction phase for the company’s proposed copper/nickel/precious metals underground mine.
Bathed in sunshine under a canopy of partly cloudy skies, company and labor officials were joined by supportive elected officials for a signing ceremony of a project labor agreement between Twin Metals and and Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council.
It commits Twin Metals to hire union workers for the construction phase of the underground mine once permits are granted.
Dean DeBeltz, TMM’s director of operations and safety and from a fourth-generation mining family, told those gathered for the ceremony just outside the company’s operational headquarters in Ely that a mine plan should be ready to deliver to appropriate agencies for review in the coming months.
“We are committed to this project and to do it right,” said Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne. “We’ve been here (in Ely) for 10 years. Community support is what we’re all about.”
TMM is working with the federal Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other regulatory agencies to facilitate the process. That process will include rigorous government scrutiny and numerous chances for public input.
The $1.2 billion underground mine project is slated to be located nine miles southeast of Ely and 11 miles northeast of Babbitt. Copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold and silver of the Maturi deposit, which is part of the Duluth Complex, is to be tapped for processing.
The project would create 700 direct jobs and another 1,400 in spin-off employment, with a second regional office located in Babbitt.
The mine, accessed through underground tunnels at the processing site located about one mile from the mine, is expected to produce approximately 20,000 tons of ore per day.
Labor leaders were enthusiastic about the several million hours of union construction labor needed for the project, which would be similar in scope to construction of the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“Our partnership with Twin Metals continues a strong tradition of union labor on the Iron Range,” said Mike Syversrud, president of the Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council. “We will get this done on schedule, under budget and safely.”
Osborne lauded Iron Range labor workers.
“As we prepare to file our mine plan of operations, it’s important that we further solidify our partnership with labor and ensure that the construction phase of our project will be completed by professionals whose specialized skills are essential to the premier quality work we insist on,” the CEO said.
TMM was praised for its $450 million already put into the project and Ely community.
Twin Metals has already had “an immense community involvement,” said Nancy Norr, board chairwoman of Jobs for Minnesotans, while kicking off the program.
“This is a great day,” said Ely Mayor Chuck Novak. “Twin Metals’ contribution to the city has been pretty strong. And they have an open door. They’re all about the safety of people and environmental safety.”
Republican 8th District U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber was upbeat.
“This is about our minerals and the future to give people more opportunity,” he said.
Stauber vehemently rejected arguments of critics of the project, who contend it will damage the environment. Opponents are especially agitated because the mine is proposed at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“We are blessed to have the Duluth Complex. And we demand safety,” he said. “This is in our backyard. This is not a playground for those who live south of here. Today we look to the future to give people more opportunity.”
Stauber added that the PLA is another example of the “fight for our way of life. The men and women of labor will make this possible.”
The first-term lawmaker also praised the Donald Trump administration for putting the project back on track by reinstating the leases. He said with 16 days left in the Barack Obama administration, the former president tried to end the project.
DFL State Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said, “This is about the middle class. It’s a really, really big deal. Let’s go forward and support the new-age economy,” he said.
The senator also fired a salvo at opponents of the project, explaining “If you want windmills, you’ve got to mine.” He was referring to a variety of nonferrous metals used in windmills.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls said the PLA ensures the project will get done properly.
Norr said the project is about mining pioneers on the Range and those of the future.
Mayor Chuck Novak also referred to his city’s mining history. He said critics often talk about the boom-bust cycle of mining.
“Well, we had a 100-year boom up here,” Novak said about the many mines that once operated in the city. The mayor added he would like to see another 100-year boom with mining of the rich Duluth Complex.
Business North Contributor Bill Hanna, who has been a writer and editor in the newspaper business for more than 40 years, was a Reporter and Executive Editor at the Mesabi Daily News on the Iron Range from 1985 to 2016. He has won more than 50 state and national awards. He currently writes Sunday columns for the MDN Op/Ed section.