In the weeks since Mesabi Metallics regained state mineral leases from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the entire project has seemingly spiraled out of control.
Now, the face of the project is on his way out amid allegations that Nubai Global Investment, the company set to control the former Essar Steel Minnesota project, withheld $91.4 million.
There are many reasons the vibe around this project is bad: From the Essar connections to senior lender Riverdale Commodities SA — an oddly silent partner in all this — to Tom Clarke’s pending ouster, to the idea of an unknown firm gaining full control.
For some of these reasons, mainly the funding and representations made to the state of Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton and the DNR need to consider withdrawing the leases — at least — until ownership of the project is settled and a more clear and honest picture of the project’s future is pitched to the state.
Congressman Rick Nolan has served lately as a strong voice of the Iron Range, and his plea to Dayton to pull the leases should carry weight. As should the 16 Iron Range mayors — including those from the West Range cities of Nashwauk, Keewatin and Grand Rapids, who have are far more impacted by this project’s success or failure.
This notion of fraud from the Mesabi Metallics project isn’t a sudden turn of events. We have written in previous weeks laying out the case for the state and Clarke to provide us and the Iron Range with real answers to what is going on. They have not.
Lacking those answers, and lacking Cleveland-Cliffs to point a finger at this time, Mesabi Metallics and the state have closed their lips even more. It wasn’t until Nolan boldly stepped out as the first elected official to publicly question the project did the DNR admit it was “carefully reviewing” the leases.
It’s understandable the state has to walk the legal and factual tightrope with all of us. But the Iron Range cannot afford tying these leases up for another year or more. A common sense solution is for the state to withdraw them, citing questions over funding, ownership and execution of the plan following the Cliffs land decision, and award them back if a viable plan is still possible for Mesabi Metallics. A plan that makes sense not for the company, but for the residents of the Iron Range that are dependent on these jobs and resources.
If one isn’t, the state should lawfully negotiate with Cliffs, who has followed through on its promises at United Taconite, Northshore and in Toledo, Ohio.
This time around, the Iron Range is done playing games with its world-class resource base. The former Essar project has been a shell of a structure for more than a decade — and the victim of corporate shell companies for just as long.
The opportune time for the state to act in its best interests and the best interests of the Iron Range is now. It would be a shame and a lasting stain on the legacy of Gov. Dayton if the state misses this opportunity and the Nashwauk project flounders into bankruptcy court once again.