Pollution concerns aired
IRON NUGGET PLANT: Environmental concerns arise during
an informational meeting about the proposed Erie Nugget
project on the Iron Range.
By Lee Bloomquist
Duluth News Tribune
Published May. 26, 2005
HOYT LAKES - Charles Lippert and the Mille Lacs Band of
Ojibwe are concerned about the effect that an iron nugget
plant in Northeastern Minnesota would have on wildlife.
Leon Anderson says building the $130 million plant is
Divergent opinions on construction of the world's first
commercial iron nugget plant began to take shape like
a nugget under heat Wednesday night at Hoyt Lakes arena
during a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency informational
meeting. The Erie Nugget plant would be the first of its
kind in the world, turning Northshore Mining Co. taconite
concentrate into nuggets containing 96 percent to 98 percent
Construction would kick-start a new Minnesota industry
and develop another market for taconite concentrate produced
at Iron Range iron ore mines.
But several who spoke Wednesday night said the plant
-- and several other proposed projects in Northeastern
Minnesota -- could have long-term environmental impact.
They also criticized the Legislature for approving a bypass
of normal environmental reviews for the nugget project.
"We're here to protect the people we love,"
said Clyde Hanson of Lutsen, a Sierra Club member. "We
should all be disappointed in the Legislature -- what
we're getting is a railroad job to get this done fast."
St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely, who's
a Steelworker, challenged Hanson.
"Because of the way this facility is going to work,
I would challenge you that our lakes, our mines and our
streams are cleaner than Edina," Forsman said.
Mercury emissions appeared to be a primary concern of
some who spoke Wednesday night.
An air permit for the plant would limit mercury air emissions
to 75 pounds per year with a goal of cutting that in half,
MPCA engineer Richard Cordes said.
The former LTV Steel Mining Co. taconite plant that operated
on the same site emitted 82 pounds of mercury per year,
said Ann Foss, MPCA major facilities section manager.
Three technologies aimed at reducing mercury air emissions
are being studied by officials at Mesabi Nugget, the company
proposing the project.
Two filters being patented would keep mercury water emission
levels at or below a Great Lakes Initiative federal standard
of 1.3 nanograms of mercury per liter, Mesabi Nugget officials
said. A mine pit into which the plant would discharge
and downstream to the St. Louis River -- has a level
of 1.2 nanograms per liter, MPCA officials said. Rainwater
in the area contains about 10 to 12 nanograms of mercury
per liter, they said.
However, Lippert, representing his Ojibwe community,
said mercury and particulate emissions could affect fishing
and hunting for other tribes, such as Fond du Lac, Boise
Forte and Grand Portage.
Because of the nuggets' high iron content, they would
sell for far more than the iron ore pellets produced at
the area's six taconite plants. Electric arc minimills
would use the nuggets to help produce steel.
Anderson, who worked at a Mesabi Nugget pilot plant in
Silver Bay, said producing the nuggets would help reduce
"If you want to take taconite, heat it up, ship
it down the Great Lakes and then heat it again to make
steel, what do you have then?" Anderson said. "With
this, you only have to heat it once."
If permitted, Mesabi Nugget officials hope to have the
plant operational by early 2007.
The natural gas-fired plant would be built at the former
LTV Steel Mining Co. site, now called Cliffs-Erie, would
be built on 6,000 acres and include six buildings. About
400 to 500 construction workers would be required to build
the plant over about 12 months. About 100 permanent workers,
50 at Mesabi Nugget and 50 at Northshore Mining Co., would
be hired to operate and produce concentrate for the plant.
Mesabi Nugget employees would earn about $60,000 a year.
The project would normally be subject to an environmental
review, but with Indiana also vying for the plant, the
Legislature exempted Mesabi Nugget from the normal permitting
The plant would be required to use "best available
control technology" for air emissions, complete an
environmental risk assessment, and assure the MPCA of
the lowest possible mercury emissions.
The mercury filters being patented would filter the plant's
"This will filter out a large amount of mercury,"
said Richard Clark, a MPCA hydrologist.