NASHWAUK, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)--As part of the Made in America Economic tour, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar got a glimpse of Essar Steel's mine site near Nashwauk.

Spokespeople told the senator the nation's first mining through steel operation is about 30 percent complete.

Essar Steel is currently permitted to produce 4.1 million tons of pellets per year.

The company expects to start production in April, the first quarter of 2013.

"I'm just most impressed that we are staying on track because so many times you run into red tape," Senator Klobuchar said. "That's not what has happened here. The project is moving forward."

Forty-five full time employees and 180 contractor employees continue to pre-strip the mine, exposing iron ore formations.

Foundations are being put in place for the ag and ball mills, tailing thickeners and slurry tanks.

Construction of the pellet plant warehouse is now complete.

"We are getting ramped up to start putting up steel in February, late February," Project Manager, Steve Rutherford said. "That would be our primary crusher building, equipment shop and then working our way down the process to the concentrator and pellet plant."

Local and state agencies now need to finalize mining and air permits that will allow Essar to increase production to 7 million tons per year.

"We're hoping by the 4th quarter of 2013 we will be ramping up the curve for 7 million tons," Rutherford said.

The next public comment hearing will be held in Nashwauk in February.

Senator Klobuchar also spoke with students in the Iron Range Engineering program at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College and toured Silicon Energy's solar panel plant in Mountain Iron while on the Iron Range.