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Relocation of Kiruna underway

The Swedish mining town of Kiruna.

After years of planning, the first steps of tearing down and moving the Arctic town of Kiruna started today in Sweden.

Far above the Arctic Circle, Kiruna is not only the northernmost municipality in Sweden, at nearly 21,000 square kilometers it’s also the biggest city (or municipality) in the world, in terms of area.

The lifeblood of Kiruna is the LKAB iron mine, and ironically the mine also threatened to be its end. Years ago LKAB announced that to keep the mine in operation they had to dug under the very center of the town itself, with a risk that would undermine all the buildings there.

So the mining company is paying an estimated 12 billion kronor to move the entire town, altogether some 3000 apartments and many other buildings. On Wednesday the first housing in the section closest to the new mining extension went under the wreckers ball.

Carl-Johan Mäki had lived there for 37 years:

“It’s like a funeral”, he tells Swedish Television News. “It looks terrible.”

On the other hand, he says he’s pleased with the brand new apartment LKAB has built for his family just a few hundred meters away. And having worked for LKAB he certainly isn’t objecting, just saying you have to accept the inevitable.

And most Kiruna residents seem to be of a like-minded attitude. Hans Sternlund has been covering the plans for the move for Swedish Television News for a decade:

“You have to remember,” he says, “that 30 years ago they were saying there wasn’t going to be a future for the mine at all.” The fact that the mine can live on, he says, means the city can live on as well.

The one hundred year old church is being taken apart and moved. But there are some tears that that isn’t been done with the historic city hall.

“It would have been impossible”, Hans Sternlund says. “The building is 50 by 50 meters in size, and they would also have had to build a road 70 meters wide to move it.”

Instead a brand new city hall is being built.

This week’s demolitions are just the first step, as City Manager Peter Niemi told Swedish Radio News:

“Much of the new town square and business district will be ready to move into in 2019,” he says, “if everything goes as planned. But if there’s anything we’ve learned in our city planning, it’s that we have to be flexible. In the worst case there could be a delay of up to two years.”

This story is posted on BarentsObserver as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.