VIRGINIA — On an everyday drive along the new Highway 53 route through Virginia, the large load trucks can be spotted climbing almost an arm’s length from the road’s outer barrier.
Cleveland-Cliffs, the company that owns and operates United Taconite in Eveleth, is beginning its preparation to clean up the site for mining operations after receiving its final permit to mine in March.
Cliffs was leasing the former Highway 53 route to the state, calling those leases a few years ago, prompting Minnesota officials to work on the alternate route that now crosses the Rouchleau Pit via the state’s tallest bridge.
The expansion of UTAC allows for about 30 more years of mining in the company’s flagship operation on the Iron Range. With its proximity to the new highway route and Midway residents, the company, the state and the city of Virginia created a plan to mitigate dust and noise as best possible.
That plan will include a berm along the highway with native conifers and vegetation. Cliffs also commissioned a larger capacity water truck to trample dust as the project moves forward.
“The main goal is to mitigate the dust as much as we can,” said Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. “There’s going to be a little dust in Midway, where I live, and there may be some on the highway. Cliffs has been very forthcoming. We’re doing what we can, but we do live in a mining community.”
Cuffe said the area will be aesthetically pleasing as it partially hides some of the active mining operations to passing traffic and the neighborhood residents.
Berm design and installation is partially funded by the Laurentian Vision Partnership Minescapes Grant Program through the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. The agency approved more than $112,000 to help with the $353,000 project. The partnership, according to the IRRRB, assists cities and townships to preserve lands that sustain current and future mining, while also promoting landscape options post mining.
In the case of this project, it includes salvaging and replanting native trees and enhancing native vegetation for the berms. The grants also covers maintenance and monitoring for two years.
Work to prepare the site is underway around Midway and the Second Avenue loop to begin constructing the berm, according to Cliffs.
“From a community perspective, this is the initial work that they will begin to see as UTAC constructs the berms and the activity to seed/vegetate later this summer,” said Cliffs spokesperson Pat Persico.
A new 50,000-gallon water truck was commissioned for dust control, which Cliffs will employ with its current 30,000-gallon truck.
The new Highway 53 route opened last September. The 204-foot-tall bridge is the highest in Minnesota with more than 10 million pounds of steel beams.
United Taconite produced more than 4.8 million tons of pellets in 2017. It employs 483 employees and more than $67 million in payroll.
Cliffs reports that the mine has a total economic impact locally of more than $272 million, including $195 million in local services and supplies and $10 million in Minnesota, local and taconite taxes.