Taconite production on Iron Range: 'Good this year; better next year'

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Taconite production on Minnesota's Iron Range dipped by 2 percent in 2013, but experts think next year could bring the highest output in more than a decade.

A state revenue official tells the Duluth News Tribune production was steady or higher at five of the six major taconite plants in the state, with Cliffs Natural Resources' Northshore Mining the only exception. Mining amounts to one-third of the gross regional product on the Range, the newspaper reports, and the production tax on the industry supplied local governments and schools with more than $100 million last year.

The mines have recovered quickly from the bottom of the recession in 2009, which the News Tribune says was the industry's worst year in Minnesota. The executive director of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota tells the News Tribune the improvement here is tied to rebounds at the steel mills that supply the construction and auto industries.

In addition to the six established mines, Magnetation is becoming a bigger player with its process that pulls ore out of abandoned mines that were thought to be tapped out. That company plans to open its fourth plant at a site near Coleraine early in 2015.

In addition, Essar Steel plans to open the first new taconite mine on the Range since the 1970's. Essar was eyeing a late 2014 opening for the plant near Nashwauk, but the News Tribune says that's now been pushed back to 2015.

Taconite production peaked in Minnesota in 1979 when 54 million tons were shipped. The Revenue Department's Bob Wagstrom tells the News Tribune it may reach 40 million tons next year, which has not happened since 2000.

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