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United Taconite starts work on new plant, marking ‘milestone’ in Iron Range’s recovery

There’s some good news for people on the Iron Range.

About a year after mining companies laid off hundreds of employees and shuttered their mines due to the downturn in the U.S. steel industry, all United Taconite employees have officially returned to work, United Steelworkers Local 6860 says.

The Duluth News Tribune says United Taconite is expected to resume mining and pellet production later this month.

And that’s not the only sign things are turning around for Iron Range workers.

Thursday marked the groundbreaking of Project Mustang, a $65 million expansion to United Taconite’s Forbes plant that will produce specialty Mustang taconite pellets as part of a long-term deal between Cliffs Natural Resources (the owner of United Taconite) and steelmaker ArcelorMittal.

Several politicians, including Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, attended Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony. They’ve been working to crackdown on illegal trade practices by foreign countries that resulted in the struggles on the Iron Range.

Franken said United Taconite’s new plant marks “a milestone in our recovery,” adding:

“The groundbreaking of United Taconite’s Project Mustang means that we now have more long-term certainty for many of our workers, and that Minnesota is helping to lead a resurgence of American steel innovation. Thanks to Cliffs Natural Resources, Range officials, union leaders, and most importantly the workers, for making Project Mustang a reality.”

Construction on the plant is expected to take about eight months, Cliffs Natural Resources says, and the project will employ 90-120 workers during various stages, the Star Tribune reports.

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