By JACKIE STARK
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - Activity surrounding the Empire Mine in Palmer Township will decrease in the coming years, with a Cliffs Natural Resources top official saying the mine will likely be shut down by the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015.
"It will be a very progressive process," said Cliffs Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Carrabba of the drawdown of the mine.
The announcement was made during Cliffs' Annual State of the Company Breakfast Tuesday, which took place at The Holiday Inn in Marquette.
The breakfast serves to offer the public a chance to hear how Cliffs is doing in the global market as well as how its Michigan operations play into that.
Carrabba called the Empire Mine, which first began pellet production in 1963 and has turned out more than 260 million tons of product since then, a "huge success," but said its economic viability was diminishing.
"It's always difficult to accept the end of a mine life," Carrabba told the crowd, which was comprised of city, township and county officials, as well as economic developers from the area. "But that day is coming to a close ... We have to face the reality of it."
However, Carrabba assured the group Cliffs would not lock the gates and walk away, stressing a sense of community as one of the company's core values. Carrabba talked about possible job training for mine employees as one option to come from a large number of discussions in how to best ensure quality of life for the hundreds of people that will find themselves out of a job.
He said Cliffs is also examining ways to repurpose the mine site and welcomes any input, adding it would be senseless to let the land sit unused.
"There is a facility there," Carrabba said. "The ground is disturbed."
News for Empire Mine workers was already looking grim, when the company announced in November it would likely lay off approximately 500 workers at its Empire and Tilden mines in April. The company said it would temporarily shut down the Empire Mine in the second quarter of this year, similar to what Cliffs did in 2012, when the Empire Mine was shut down from June until August.
The closures are meant to combat increased iron ore price volatility and lower North American steel-making use rates, according to Cliffs.
Cliffs currently has roughly 830 employees at its Empire Mine and 730 employees at its Tilden Mine.