Tuesday, June 12, 2012 By Aaron Brown
In other words, the oft-repeated assumption that Minnesota permitting rules are too slow isn't the concern here. The bill passed by Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) last session would have addressed that. The land issues -- problems with a lease, siting concerns, etc. -- are, nevertheless, unexpected. Just two months ago the proposed site in Itasca County was being vetted for use.
In the Kraker MPR story, IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich said he was given the impression that Indiana was Magnetation's top choice and, given the language and circumstances, that seems true. The chief customer for the proposed Magnetation pellets is AK Steel, whose blast furnaces are in Ohio. When considering that, one can see how AK Steel would want more of its production capacity located closer to its onus of control (Indiana). The driver, of course, is cost. Control is an added benefit, and related to cost.
Still, the timing of the company's final decision at the "end of the year" seems oddly slow considering the company's need for speed in all other regards. The end of the year seems not-coincidentally linked to the end of the election and whether the company thinks it can get a better deal in any of the three states, particularly here. I don't know that any given election result would change practical considerations here in Minnesota, however. The advantage of northern Minnesota continues to be the region's proximity to the ore and available labor with taconite production experience. But labor costs must also be considered, and Indiana's anti-union environment might be tempting.
Ultimately Magnetation will do what it feels it must to build its plant and compete. It continues to amaze me, however, how the swirling churn of politics is, in effect, factored into the business plan. Rep. Anzelc is seeking a private meeting with Magnetation and perhaps that will yield some answers or possibilities.
(Disclosure: Anzelc is a friend and I run his campaigns).
UPDATE (June 13): Magnetation President Matt Lehtinen wrote to clarify that permitting was a factor in the decision, along with other land and site issues:
"So to summarize, our decision to eliminate MN from the pellet plant site list was based on several site-specific issues and a permitting timeline that did not meet our goal to strive to have the plant running by middle of 2014.”