Empire production remains at standstill

PALMER – The Empire Mine’s production of iron ore pellets remains disabled after a fire damaged the mine’s concentrator plant Monday morning.

The fire damaged the concentrator – which combines crushed limestone with crushed iron ore as part of the process of concentrating and removing the iron from waste materials (called “gangue”) – as well as the conveyor that carries the limestone into the plant.

Jennifer Huetter, Cliffs Natural Resources’ district manager of public affairs in Michigan, said that while the mine is still trying to determine the full extent of the damage, it’s not so significant that the Empire’s concentrator, or the mine’s processing of ore, will be permanently shuttered – even with the Empire slated to close at the end of 2014.

Huetter said that she expects the concentrator to be “back up and running” in the near future, and said that so far the Empire’s pellet production has not been affected.

“We were ahead on our schedule, so for right now we’re okay,” she said. “(But) we’re still going to be able to produce pellets. We’re going to find a way, obviously.”

The Tilden Mine was unaffected by the fire and continues its normal operations.

The fire remains under investigation by Cliffs, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the United Steelworkers.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.