According to my GPS, as we were leaving Abisko for Kiruna, we apparently passed through the Twilight Zone; or, maybe the ground was subsiding:
We spent a little time in Kiruna after we landed at the airport there a few days ago before visiting the Sámi Camp to see the reindeer and then continuing on to Abisko. Kiruna is about a 1.5 hour drive from Abisko on the E10 which runs parallel to the Malmbanan the whole way. The passenger train that runs on the Malmbanan tracks terminates in Kiruna.
The Malmbanan iron ore trains, however, veer off to the south where the cars are lined up for loading at the giant mine operated by Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (limited company), known by its acronym LKAB, which is 100% owned by the Swedish government (the government acquired 96% of the stock in 1957 and the rest in 1976).
The Kiruna mine is the largest underground iron ore mine in the world, producing over 26 million tons of iron ore annually. You can see the empty railcars lined up on the tracks to the right in the photo, below, bound ultimately for the port at Narvik and the wider world beyond. To the left is what is left of the mountain (Kiirunavaara) that LKAB has been strip-mining for decades.
We drove in toward the south past where we were allowed to be in order to get a little closer look at the above-ground mining operations. The mining is also done underground to a depth of almost 3/4 of a mile!
This mountain is the second that LKAB has mined, behind me to the north was the first, Luossavaara, but it’s been pretty much depleted (you can see the mining scar cut through its middle). There is now a warren of mineshafts extending from Kiirunavaara underneath the city of Kiruna itself.
I say “old city hall” because LKAB is building the city of Kiruna a new city hall since the old one – like most of the city center – is now unstable as the ground subsides due to the mineshafts below. The subsidence first became obvious in 2003 and relocation and reconstruction began in 2014. Here’s the new city hall, under construction about 1.8 miles to the east:
Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden (pop. 18,000), is in the process of being relocated. Yep, you heard that right: LKAB is paying to “move” about half the city 1.8 miles to the east so that it can continue to mine underneath the existing structures in the city center. Only a handfull of buildings are actually going to be moved; the rest will be demolished and new housing and commercial buildings will be built to the east. The cost to relocate and reconstruct the city is estimated to be somewhere north of (pardon the pun) $1 billion. Iron ore is apparently that valuable. More than 400 residents have already been relocated, so they’ve really just gotten started. The entire relocation is expected to take about 30 years.
Here’s a scale model showing the part of the city that is going to be relocated, the part inside the red line; Dale is pointing to the new city hall location (the airport is on the far right):
If you find this whole affair interesting, you might want to check out this video; trust me, it’s worth watching.
Being an eminent domain attorney, I am fascinated by the “forced relocation” aspect of this endeavor. I mean, not everybody is going to want to be moved off their ancestral home, and I suspect that some of these people are Sámi who undoubtedly have a special attachment to the land, if not special rights.
Another problem that has to be addressed: the Kiruna Church (“Kiruna kyrka”) which was voted Sweden’s Most Beautiful Public Building in 2001, yet it is one of the buildings proposed to be moved. We visited it when we first landed and it’s pretty impressive, one of Sweden’s largest wooden structures, built in 1909-1912:
LKAB (remember, its 100% owned by the Swedish government) plans to pay 125% of the “pre-determined market price” for the houses it plans to acquire. But, what happens if a homeowner doesn’t agree with LKAB’s offer? Hey, I know a good eminent domain attorney they might want to call. Allen, you busy?
We wish we could have gone on the tour of the mine, but we didn’t have time and had to get to the airport, so off we went. You know they must get a lot of snow here in the winter.