Empire Mine…Marquette or Minnesota?


Cliffs Natural Resources opened Empire Mine in the late 1800s and had been producing iron ore until 2016 when operations ceased. Until then, miners have struggled to make ends meet. Photo courtesy of Cliffs Natural Resources.

Jackie Jahfetson

In the early 19th century,
the Marquette Iron Range in
Negaunee, 18 miles northeast of
Marquette, was discovered by the

first settlers. The plentiful deposits of iron ore expanded the small

village and caused more immigrants to flood to the Marquette

County area. Since then, the traditions of those days are few in

between. But for some, mining is
still a way of life. And when the
Empire Mine shut down on Aug.
28, 2016, many miners struggled
to make ends meet.

With the Cleveland Cliffs Inc.
potentially looking at reopening
the mine, the community might

see some changes in the near future.

The company is conducting

a thorough study on the Empire Mine and looking to see if

it will be a good option to move

forward, but they’re also scouting an area in Minnesota to look

at whether it would be more efficient to construct a new mine

altogether, said Patricia Persico,

director of Corporate Communications of Cliffs.

The company’s CEO Lourenco Goncalves conversed with

Marquette County back in February and now it’s about the

“feasibility stage” and looking

at the long-term effects, Persico

“The existing mine is vital and
when you move to that phase,
there’s a lot of operational things
you have to look at to be able to
restart something,” Persico said.

“Economically, is it feasible and
what [would] you be capable of
doing? It’s not something you
can make a decision and the next
month you’re operating again.”

As a company, it’s important to
clearly define what the pros and
cons are so it not only benefits
the community, but is it efficient
for the company as well, Persico
continued. The decision, which
date has yet to be announced,
is going through an evaluation
process at the moment, she said.
The news has prompted lots of
discussions in the area and the
decision to move forward with

the Empire Mine would produce
jobs and increase tax revenues,
she added.

“We’ve been really appreciative of the support extended by

Gov. Snyder’s administration

and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. People

have really stepped forward and
we’ve had great discussions,”
Persico said.

When the mine shut down, it
costed the region over 300 jobs
that paid $68,000-$70,000 a
year, said Amy Clickner, Chief

executive officer of Lake Superior Community Partnership. The

economic impact would be huge

for this region not only for miners but for other businesses that

helped support the industry with
supplies from basic essentials
such as pens and paper to tires,
Clickner said.

Restarting the Empire Mine

would reverse the negative impact the shutdown produced back

in 2016 and maintain stability in

the area moving forward, Clickner said. The decision would also

bring many families back to the
area, she said.

“It’s a significant event if we’re
fortunate enough to get it and
it’s the biggest job on my desk,”
Clickner added.

For miners like Marvin Erickson, reopening the Empire Mine

would boost the economy and

bring jobs back to the area, Erickson said. What most people

don’t realize about mining is that

it’s a difficult way to make a living, Erickson noted. The pension

is great but it’s a seasonal type of
work, he said.

“It’s a tough life. Pay and benefits are good and everything but

they work a lot of hours and [it’s]
shift work. A lot of people don’t
see that and never experience it,”
Erickson said.

The downside to mining is that
there’s lots of ups and downs
where you face unemployment
more than other industries do,
Erickson said. With mining,
employees are not guaranteed
a certain amount of hours like
most jobs but it’s a way of life for
many locals. Reopening the mine
would help produce an “influx”
to the flow of the economy, he

“I’m hopeful and wondering if

there’s a real attempt by the company to come back, or if they’re

seeing if they can benefit more

by staying in Minnesota,” Erickson said. “I’m waiting to see how

it’s going to play out.”