Dozens of people turn out for second Red Lady Forum in a week
Another large crowd turned out in Gunnison for the second of last week’s High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) forums on Wednesday, October 24, discussing the proposed Lucky Jack molybdenum mine.
High Country Citizens’ Alliance, a local environmental group that has opposed the molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons for the last 30 years, organized the forums in an effort to educate the public and rally opposition to the resurgent mine proposal.
Approximately 200 people were on hand to hear the HCCA presentation, which was similar to one the day before in Crested Butte.
HCCA mineral resource director Bob Salter said the impacts of the mine would reach far beyond the mine’s immediate vicinity. Salter noted that the proposed 165-acre tailings disposal site was designated for an area encompassing the headwaters of Ohio and Carbon Creeks.
“If these tailing facilities fail, as they often do, the saturated fine-grained material dumped into them would be transported for miles, and effective clean-up would be virtually impossible,” Salter said. “Over time the water quality impacts could be felt as far away as Gunnison or Blue Mesa.”
Kobex officials have initially indicated the need for a 165-acre parcel to accommodate the mine’s tailings, but according to Salter, much more land could be required, depending on how long the mine was productive.
Tailings are the waste product of mining operations, and usually contain toxic minerals.
All of the HCCA presenters agreed that local opposition would be key in the struggle to deter the mine. Roger Featherstone, with Earthworks Action Network, said grassroots opposition had a proven track record, and he urged people to get involved the process.
“Community involvement works,” he said.
But according to Featherstone, current laws like the mining law of 1872 favored the mining companies, making local conservation efforts especially difficult. However, he said efforts to reform the 1872 mining law were before Congress and he advised the audience to provide comments to their congressional representatives in support of H.R. 2262. He said this bill, which will be voted on by the House of Representatives between now and Thanksgiving, will hold mining companies to much higher environmental and financial standards.
After hearing from the HCCA presenters individually, a list of prepared questions were asked and forum presenters were encouraged to answer according to their particular area of expertise.
Dave Chambers, director of Center for Science and Public Participation, fielded the first question, which concerned the likelihood that the proposed mine would become larger than initially proposed.
According to Chambers, enlargement was likely because the Mt. Emmons molybdenum deposit was particularly rich—containing an estimated 22 million tons of high-grade ore and 220 million tons of lower-grade ore. Chambers said that if the mine company invested in the costly infrastructure, it stood to reason that they would continue to extract the resource until the mine was no longer profitable.
Chambers said by his calculations, mining the entire ore deposit would require ten times the amount of tailing storage area initially proposed.
Chambers also answered a question about the track record of mine reclamation efforts and whether modern mines were less likely to leave lasting environmental damage.
He said as recently as 2003 metal prices were low and several mines throughout the country declared bankruptcy. Because the required security bonds did not cover the cleanup costs of the defunct operations, he said, significant portions of those costs were borne by the public. While Chambers said today’s mineral prices were high and mines were opening rather than closing, he noted that the bonding still didn’t afford adequate protection to the local areas affected by mining operations.
Chambers also cited an in-depth study of 25 mines with similar hydrology to the Lucky Jack mine proposal. The study indicated 70 percent of the mines violated both surface and groundwater quality standards.
“If you go to mines that have elevated acid drainage potential, the numbers get worse,” Chambers said. “And unfortunately this mine falls into that category as well,” he added.
Crested Butte area resident Sandy Shea asked the panel how molybdenum price spikes happen, and to what extent the price of the mineral is driven by the current military economy. Molybdenum is used as a steel hardener and is therefore used extensively in applications—including aerospace—where strength and weight are driving factors.
John Marlow, a land and resource economist from the Sonoran Institute, said he didn’t know how much current military applications affected the price, but said the current price (about $34 per pound) was being driven by the rapid industrial expansion of the developing world—particularly India and China.
Marlow said, however, the price of molybdenum was volatile, and since it was a fairly small market, any new mine operations or old mine operations coming back on line could potentially flood the market—precipitating a dramatic price reduction.
Past HCCA president Larry Mosher asked whether China’s burgeoning environmental problems could result in reduced industrial output.
Marlow said he wouldn’t bet on a slowdown of the Chinese economy. “It’s a billion people and they want to have the same lifestyle we have,” he said.
Mt. Crested Butte resident Betsy Janney asked, in the event that the mine did go through, which transportation route was most likely to be used by the large trucks needed to service the mine.
Dan Morse of HCCA answered that while no route was specified yet, Colorado State Highway 135 was currently the only route that offered year-round access.
Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin added that trucks passing through Crested Butte were a matter of local concern. “The Town Council would regulate that activity,” he said.
Mark Hatcher of the U.S. Forest Service said that route selection would be analyzed as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten said the mine’s transportation needs would also be subject to county regulations and would require county oversight.
Additional information on the topics presented at the forum can be found by visiting HCCA’s website, www.hccaonline.org.