ST. PAUL — Cleveland-Cliffs on Monday, April 15, dropped its lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the agency’s commissioner after the Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit the company had made against the agency.

The Cleveland-based iron ore mining company voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit it filed in August against the DNR over the agency’s refusal to transfer a permit to mine at the former Essar Steel site in Nashwauk from mining competitor Mesabi Metallics and grant it to Cliffs instead.

The two companies have leases throughout the Nashwauk site, creating a complicated quilt of ownership, but only Mesabi Metallics has a permit to mine at the site.

Cliffs’ decision came shortly after an opinion by the Court of Appeals dismissed the company’s other lawsuit against the DNR, which argued water-appropriations permits held by Mesabi Metallics should be transferred to Cliffs or canceled because it encroached on Cliffs’ land. But Judge Denise Reilly wrote that the appeal would be dismissed because the DNR had already modified Mesabi Metallics’ water-appropriation permits so none would overlap with land owned by Cliffs.

But Cliffs will continue to fight Mesabi Metallics in court, claiming the company is trespassing on Cliffs’ Nashwauk site land with “mining activity infrastructure.”

In an interview Thursday, Cliffs spokesperson Patricia Persico said, “We made the decision rather than to continue to pursue other legal action against the Minnesota DNR. … Instead, Cleveland-Cliffs will continue to pursue the remainder of its legal action against Mesabi Metallics, for the trespassing on properties which we hold exclusive interest.”

DNR assistant commissioner Jess Richards said in an email to the News Tribune that despite being sued by Cliffs over permitting, the agency stood by its decisions.

“DNR was very confident in the basis of our decisions to deny Cliff’s requests regarding the Mesabi Metallics water appropriation permits and permit to mine,” Richards said.

Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves has long demanded the DNR transfer leases from Mesabi Metallics to his company, but state officials have refused because, to their knowledge, Mesabi Metallics has not violated any lease terms.

In January, the DNR did say they were taking a closer look at the leases held by Mesabi Metallics for any violations. At the same time, state officials announced they were working to block Essar, the company that left the Nashwauk mine site half built and in bankruptcy, from returning to the site.

Goncalves often blames former Gov. Mark Dayton for killing Cliffs’ plans for the site because of his unwillingness to transfer the leases after a Delaware bankruptcy judge ultimately picked Mesabi Metallics to take over the Essar site in July 2017.


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