Up North Report: Inside North America’s biggest construction project – by Aaron Brown (Minneapolis Star Tribune – May 25, 2015)


Construction is accelerating at the long awaited $1.9 billion Essar Steel Minnesota mine near Nashwauk, while Essar now says it’s optimistic about producing direct reduced iron products here.

In a tour of the Northern Minnesota site on May 21 with Mitch Brunfelt, Essar’s assistant general counsel and director of government and public relations, I took pictures and observed progress at the site of the biggest construction project on the Mesabi Iron Range in a generation.

This is currently the largest greenfield construction project on the continent, and it’s hard to understate the sheer size, commontion, and labor involved. The site produces a steady drone, easily heard from my home eight miles away.

After years of starts and stops, Essar now says it is finally fully financed and has increased its contractor workforce at the site. About 400 workers were on site the day I visited. Brunfelt said they will soon see 600-800 workers on site each day as summer arrives in force.

Essar has officially amended its construction timeline to reflect the realities of the company’s progress. Brunfelt said Essar engineers are now eying production of taconite by late June or July of 2016. This is a revision from earlier projections to be making pellets by the end of this year, a claim that didn’t seem plausible to most observers. Based on the amount of work I saw, however, the new completion date seems possible.

I asked about rumors of other mines looking to buy into the Nashwauk project. Brunfelt said Essar, a privately held company, is not looking for partners and plans to operate this taconite plant on its own. They have off-take agreements to send the initial annual capacity of 7 million tons of pellets to Essar’s Algoma steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on the east end of Lake Superior and to Arcelor-Mittal, the world’s largest steel company with mills in North America.

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