Coalition presents petition to Forest Service
Although the Red Lady Coalition did not receive a definitive answer from the U.S. Forest Service regarding its petition, the coalition is optimistic the meeting will encourage a more in-depth analysis of any mining proposal submitted to the agency regarding a potential large-scale molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons.
On Tuesday, December 11 the Red Lady Coalition met with Forest Service representatives to present the petition and, according to coalition member John Norton, the meeting was productive. The Red Lady Coalition, comprised of concerned individuals and organizations from throughout the Gunnison Valley, is committed to protecting Mt. Emmons and surrounding waterways from the potential impacts of mining.
“The Forest Service said that it was an appropriate request to make, that the mine owners at least talk about what a .35 percent and above ore mine would look like and how it would be handled,” Norton says. The .35 percent Norton is referring to is the ore mineral content within the molybdenum vein located in Mt. Emmons.
Norton says mine proponents have indicated thus far that they intend to only 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 might continue to extract the lower quality ore from surrounding deposits.
Only 22 million tons of the 220 million tons of molybdenum in Mt. Emmons are considered high grade. The remaining molybdenum is considered low grade ore with mineral concentration averaging between .35 percent and .60 percent.
“The mine companies have said that they intend to apply for only the richest deposits, but they also talk about having ten times more ore available than just the richest deposit,” Norton says.
The coalition says such a possibility should be weighed by the Forest Service when the agency considers the issuance of the necessary permits.
“We met with the Forest Service to apprise them of our request that the mining companies address a full build-out on Mt. Emmons,” Red Lady Coalition member Denis Hall says.
Deputy forest supervisor for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Kendall Clark says the meeting provided for mutual understanding and education.
“It was a good meeting. We are glad they wanted to come in and talk face to face, and we came to several understandings,” Clark says. “They had certain interests at heart and they wanted to communicate them to the Forest Service, and we were able to understand each other, having spent some time together.”
Clark could not specifically say how the petition will impact the permitting process.
“Almost any proposal that comes from the public is well prescribed to use through law and regulations,” says Clark. “We spent some time understanding that process, and any worries or requests were probably answered by having a better understanding of the process.”
However, Clark agrees the scope of this project warrants attention and public discourse. “The Forest Service welcomes folks to come in and talk to us when things of this scale are proposed because we believe in a well-educated public,” Clark adds. “(The proposed Lucky Jack project) is a big deal and we all know that.”
Lucky Jack project community liaison Perry Anderson says the Red Lady Coalition’s request for information is valid, however, he believes the Coalition’s petition contains inaccuracies.
“We have no problems with (the Red Lady Coalition) working with a public organization like the Forest Service,” Anderson says. “However, our concern is the Coalition’s petition contains inaccurate information” which Anderson notes has already been addressed in public forums.
The petition requests the Forest Service require disclosure of the possible full range of operations and long-term impacts of all mining company plans on permit applications.
Anderson says trying to forecast the life of a mine is extremely difficult and it is the mining companies’ goal to collect and provide accurate information.
“A 10-year time line is just what is foreseeable. If we can forecast beyond that, it would be a good thing to do, but it might not be accurate,” Anderson says.
Kobex and U.S. Energy executives have stated that mining on Mt. Emmons could potentially last as long as 70 years; however, Kobex COO Maurice Tagami wrote in a letter to the editor last week, Kobex’s “development scenario reasonably contemplates a mine life of only ten years.”
Anderson adds that if the operation were to continue beyond ten years, the mining companies would have to return to the Forest Service for additional permitting.
Hall says the meeting was intended to prevent any long-term mining on Mt. Emmons.
“It is our assumption that once the infrastructure is in place, someone is going to use it to mine the lower grade ore if the economic situation warrants,” Hall says.
U.S. Energy/Kobex have stated they intend to submit its plan of operation to the Forest Service in the first business quarter of 2008.
Norton says a plan of operation with a full build-out scenario would be positive for the community because it would provide a better understanding of the potential impacts of a mine.
“Everyone in the community would like to know what a true mining operation and dump site would look like and the potential impacts,” Norton says.
Dan Morse, High Country Citizens’ Alliance lands director, agrees with Norton that a full build out analysis is needed. Morse says meeting with the Forest Service is a positive step for the community and preventing a large scale mine on Mt. Emmons.
In November, the City of Gunnison and Town of Crested Butte also elected to submit letters to the Forest Service requesting full disclosure. More than 60 local organizations, including governments, homeowner associations and property owners, signed the coalition’s petition to the Forest Service.
Norton says the future actions of the Red Lady Coalition have not been determined as yet. “We’ve been so focused on full disclosure, that we need to regroup and figure out what our next steps are,” Norton says.