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$31 million capital investment touted as future of North Dakota’s mining industry

“This will sustain and enhance not only jobs, but also the local, regional and North Dakota economies,” says Pat Cutshall, ALLETE vice president

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Commissioning ceremony for a new 11-million-pound dragline, an excavator used in surface mining, at the Center Mine in Center, N.D.
Photo courtesy of BNI
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Center, N.D. — BNI Coal, a subsidiary of ALLETE Inc., on Monday commissioned a

new 11-million-pound dragline, an excavator used in surface mining, at its Center Mine that is being touted as the key to keeping the lignite mine operating efficiently for the foreseeable future.

The commissioning ceremony of the aptly named, ‘Legacy,’ is the culmination of a project that began during the second quarter of 2021 after the purchase of the excavator from Mississippi Power Co. The excavator arrived in Center, N.D. in individual components, after having been disassembled into pieces small enough to be transported by truck to North Dakota.

More than a year later, after being reassembled on-site piece-by-piece, BNI announced that the $31 million project replaced the older dragline that was slated for retirement.

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Mike Hegar, BNI general manager, addresses attendees during the excavator commissioning ceremony.
Photo courtesy of BNI

The newer model’s purchase was, according to BNI, a more cost-effective solution instead of attempting to refit and upgrade to the older excavator.
“The commissioning of Legacy builds on BNI’s nearly 100-year history in North Dakota as a large employer with a commitment to environmental stewardship,” Mike Hegar, BNI general manager said. “What you see here is a $31 million capital investment in the future of North Dakota’s lignite industry and our dedication to providing a reliable and affordable energy resource.”

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Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a combustible sediment formed naturally through the compression of peat. With a carbon content below 40%, it produces a relatively low heat content compared to other forms of coal.

The new excavator, Legacy, will join a similarly sized dragline named Liberty, which was placed into service at the Center Mine 18-years ago. The two excavators act as the primary earth-movers at the mine, which provides its lignite to Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Milton R. Young Generating Station. The two generating stations comprising the Young station have generation capacities of 250 MW and 455 MW.

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ALLETE Vice President and Corporate Treasurer Pat Cutshall said he believes that the new addition and commissioning are important milestones for BNI.

The process of moving the new dragline to North Dakota required more than 200 truck deliveries, and combined mileage could have circled the globe 12 times. The 120,000 hours of work needed to complete the project is among the largest in the company’s history.

“This will sustain and enhance not only jobs, but also the local, regional and North Dakota economies,” said Cutshall.

Guests at the commissioning included Randy Christmann, North Dakota Public Service Commissioner; U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong; and U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer.

Cramer praised BNI’s land reclamation efforts, noting that the prairie draws and woods left behind are even more spectacular than the location before BNI’s work began.

The new excavator, Legacy, is expected to be in operation within six weeks.

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A mining bucket used in Lignite mining at Center Mine in Center, N.D., stands more than 15 feet tall.
Photo courtesy of BNI

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