More than 60 groups ask Forest Service to consider full build-out of mine
The new Red Lady Coalition isn’t necessarily an anti-mining group, according to its members. But they say they are committed to preserving Mt. Emmons, the Crested Butte municipal water supply and the broader Gunnison River headwaters.
The problem, according to the coalition, is that the proposed Lucky Jack molybdenum mine is located on Mt. Emmons, and the mining operation proposes to straddle the very headwaters they wish to protect.
On December 4, at the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners meeting, the Red Lady Coalition presented the commissioners with a list of more than 60 local organizations, including governments, homeowner associations and property owners, that have come together at the coalition’s behest to petition the U.S. Forest Service to require U.S. Energy Corp. and Kobex to disclose the full build-out scope of the proposed mine.
The group did not solicit the county’s support but provided an introduction to the coalition’s efforts. "We just wanted to report our concerns to the commissioners," says Red Lady Coalition member John Norton.
U.S. Energy/Kobex stated their intention to submit the plan for their large-scale molybdenum mining operation to the Forest Service in the first business quarter of 2008. Molybdenum is used to harden steel, and the price of the mineral has recently skyrocketed to over $40 dollars a pound.
So far, the mine proponents have indicated that they intend to ask the Forest Service to permit a limited-scope mining operation that contemplates extracting only the highest grade ore from the mountain.
However, the Red Lady Coalition says that if the price is right, the mine may continue to extract the lower quality ore from surrounding deposits. Kobex and U.S. Energy executives have stated that mining on Mt. Emmons could last as long as it is possible to profit from the operation—possibly up to 70 years. The coalition says such a possibility should be weighed by the Forest Service when the agency considers the issuance of the necessary permits.
"A 70-year mining operation would have significantly greater socio-economic and environmental impacts than a mine lasting 10 years," Norton said in a Red Lady Coalition press release. "It would jeopardize a large area of Gunnison River headwaters, including Coal Creek, Ohio Creek, Carbon Creek and the Slate River. The public has a right to know the potential scope of those impacts to our communities, water quality and supply, wildlife habitat, schools and services."
Lucky Jack mine community liaison Perry Anderson says the Red Lady Coalition is using outdated numbers that were generated from a previous proposal to mine Mt. Emmons. The area was slated to be mined for molybdenum in the early 80s by the AMAX corporation. The AMAX operation called for the removal of 25,000 tons of ore per day, according to Anderson.
"The information (the Red Lady Coalition) is using is inaccurate and invalid," he says.
Anderson stresses that the permit for which U.S. Energy/Kobex is applying covers a ten-year operation that contemplates the removal of 6,000 tons of ore per day.
If the operation continues to profit after ten years, according to Anderson, the mining corporation will have to return to the Forest Service for additional permitting.
Sammye Meadows, who represented the Red Lady Coalition at the commissioners’ meeting with colleagues Norton and High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) mineral resource director Bob Salter, says the coalition’s intent was not to ask the commissioners to sign on to the petition.
"They can’t because they are in the process of updating their 1041 regs," she says.
The 1041 regulations are special rules that govern large-scale developments within Gunnison County. Meadows explained that the county is likely to have a quasi-judicial role in determining whether the mine should receive county permits to operate the mine. Therefore, she said the county attorney has advised the commissioners not to exhibit any bias in support or opposition of the proposed mine.
Meadows says the petition is neither pro- nor anti-mine. But Meadows, who says she comes from a family of coal miners, thinks that there are some places that mining operations shouldn’t venture.
"I’m concerned about mine tailings contaminating the Gunnison River headwaters," she says.
Salter says he feels good about the support the coalition is receiving.
"I couldn’t ask for a better level of organization and engagement from the public," he says.
The next step, according to Salter, is to present the petition to the Forest Service.
"Probably in the next week or so, we’ll send it to the Forest Service supervisor," he says.
Norton says the broader community support for the Red Lady Coalition’s request for full build-out disclosure is unprecedented.
"I’ve never seen such a unified front presented on an issue," he says. "I think we’re seeing such a united effort because it’s such a reasonable request," he adds.