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MPCA fines Cleveland-Cliffs $16750 for wetland pollution at Virginia mine

VIRGINIA — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency fined Cleveland-Cliffs $16,750 for polluting a nearby wetland at its Minorca Mine in Virginia last spring.

In a Wednesday, July 3, news release, the MPCA reported the mine leaked wastewater, construction runoff and tailings materials across nearly a half-acre, including the wetland. The Minorca Mine is a complex of large, operating, open-pit iron mines and a facility producing pellets from taconite.

The enforcement investigation found the May 2023 leak was the result of inadequate operation and maintenance of the tailings basin pipeline at the facility. It caused nuisance conditions in the wetland, according to findings.

The investigation also confirmed unpermitted runoff from construction activities on the tailings basin road impacted the same wetland in June 2023. About 11,500 cubic feet of tailings materials — or 86,000 gallons — were leaked.

In addition to paying the civil penalty, Cleveland-Cliffs completed a series of corrective actions, including:

  • Updating its tailings pipeline inspection and maintenance plan to include semi-annual pipe wall thickness testing. 
  • Developing an environmental screening checklist as guidance to address environmental requirements prior to beginning construction or maintenance projects. 

According to the MPCA, the agency calculates fines by considering how seriously the violations affected — or could have affected — the environment, and whether they were first-time or repeat violations. The agency reports it also attempts to recover the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

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