An infrastructure transaction between Cliffs Natural Resources and the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine will benefit both the company and the Marquette County community. Friday morning, officials from both companies announced the creation of the Cliffs Rio Tinto Marquette County Community Fund. Over the next five years, $4 million will be given to community-focused projects. The community will benefit from the fund, while the companies gain better rail line access and transportation.
The agreement involves three companies. Cliffs will provide Rio Tinto the right to reactivate a 1.8 mile stretch of railway to the Humboldt Mill, where ore from the Eagle Mine will be processed. LS&I gains a three-mile rail bypass near the Eagle Mills Yard. That was owned by Mineral Range Inc., a third-party rail line operator. Mineral Range receives 12 miles of track from Ishpeming to Humboldt Junction that was owned by LS&I.
Dale Hemmila, the director of public affairs for Cliffs North America, and Matt Johnson, the external manager for the Eagle Mine, made the announcement on Friday morning at the Landmark Inn.
"We decided that instead of creating just another business transaction, we could create an opportunity beyond what we already provide in jobs and taxes and local procurement by creating a new Marquette County Community Fund with the money that's been transacted between both Cliffs and Rio Tinto," Johnson said.
"I think it's a unique opportunity to put money back into the community that quite frankly could have gone to the corporate bottom line ," Hemmila added.
Hemmila pointed out that a partnership like this is rare in the mining industry.
"Mining companies many times are at odds, but to have two relatively large mining companies here in Marquette County, and then to be able to have them collaborate on a fund like that is very unique within our industry ," said Hemmila.
The Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) hosted Friday's announcement. LSCP member Tony Retaskie thinks the strong relationship between the companies will be a positive one for the community.
"I think this is really an extraordinary opportunity for Marquette County," Retaskie said. "We haven't seen two companies of this caliber come together in my lifetime. I don't think that we've ever seen this, and I think it's really a great opportunity for Marquette County."
The fund will give money to major community projects or programs that focus on education, youth, environment, health and community development. The fund will look to support long-term, community based, legacy projects.
"We're looking forward to taking the grant applications in and going through those and picking out several that are worthy of funding," said Hemmila.
Applications will start to be reviewed later this year.Application information is available on the Lake Superior Community Partnership's web site.
Rio Tinto owns the Eagle Mine that is still being constructed in Northern Marquette County. Cliffs Natural Resources owns the Empire and Tilden Mines on the Marquette Iron Range.