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ERP Iron Ore could lose Minnesota mineral leases

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn.—A day after earning back mineral leases for one of his proposed mining operations, Tom Clarke learned he could be losing the mineral leases for his other mining company.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent a notice of termination on Thursday, July 12, to ERP Iron Ore, Clarke's company that is trying to revive the bankrupt Magnetation operations in Grand Rapids after the company fell $34,200 behind in payments for five mineral leases near the Plant 4 site, according to Barb Naramore, an assistant commissioner with the DNR.

"They are behind on rental payments," Naramore said.

ERP has until July 27, 15 days after the July 12 notice, to repay the DNR.

"If they do cure that default, then everything's good — we move on," Naramore said.

But if ERP doesn't make that payment, the leases will revert back to the state on September 10, 60 days after the original notice.

As of Monday morning, July 16, ERP had not made any payments to the DNR or responded to the notice, Naramore said.

The notice came a day after Clarke, a Roanoke, Va., entrepreneur, celebrated the DNR reinstating mineral leases to Chippewa Capital Partners, his other mining venture and parent company of Mesabi Metallics. Under that company, Clarke is trying to finish a taconite mine and processing center and also build an iron plant on the Nashwauk site that Essar Steel Minnesota left several years ago.

Since Chippewa Capital Partners and ERP Iron Ore are separate entities, the decisions have no direct connection, Naramore said.

ERP has missed other payments since buying the Magnetation site in January 2017.

In May, four companies filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against ERP as unpaid debts — including $4.4 million for electricity and service to Minnesota Power — built up. Shortly after, company officials said they paid back most creditors but have yet to fully pay back Minnesota Power, according to Minnesota Power spokesperson Amy Rutledge.

"ERP remains in bankruptcy ... owing monies related to services provided at the Magnetation site, and we continue to work with them to resolve the matter," Rutledge said in an email last week after ERP filed a motion to delay the dismissal of the petition.

That petition, however, had no impact on the DNR's action.

"It is, I suppose, certainly further evidence that they seem to not be paying folks for various amounts," Naramore said.

Clarke and other company officials did not respond to calls or emails on Monday.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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