Are all the mining claims valid?
Two political heavyweights are getting directly involved in the Lucky Jack-Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine issue. United States Congressmen John Salazar and Mark Udall, both of Colorado, have jointly sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management asking the agencies to make sure the Lucky Jack project proponent, U.S. Energy Corp, has valid mining claims. The company has 300 patented claims and more than 5,000 acres of unpatented claims.
“It is our belief that a comprehensive validity review of the unpatented Lucky Jack mining project claims will help prevent unnecessary watershed disruption and the costly expenditure of federal, state and private sector funds,” stated Representatives Salazar and Udall in a press release.
“One of my most important responsibilities is to make sure that the water we all drink and use to irrigate our fields is not causing us harm,” Salazar said.
Udall added that, “Coloradans know that the lifeblood in the West is water. We need for the BLM to meet its responsibility to protect this vital watershed.”
The mayor of Crested Butte couldn’t be happier with the action. “Congressmen Salazar and Udall have made me proud they are our representatives,” Alan Bernholtz commented. “I am really excited about this move. I think the ultimate impact of the request is up in the air but if they can’t validate their claims, the land will go back to the public. People need to remember this is public land we are talking about. It’s perceptive and savvy for the congressmen to take a step forward and take a positive action toward protecting the Town’s watershed.”
While the Forest Service has yet to receive a formal Plan of Operations Proposal, the congressmen “believe that certain threshold issues need to be resolved.”
“As we are sure you will agree, full and open public involvement in the mine permitting and review process is necessary before the agency can review the environmental and other impacts from the molybdenum mine and determine whether to approve the project,” the letter states.
“With that in mind, we are writing to request that the Forest Service, with the assistance of the Bureau of Land Management verify that the unpatented mining and millsite claims associated with the proposed Lucky Jack project are valid prior to approving any plan of operation for the project.”
It is somewhat rare that either agency would conduct such a claim validity review at this stage of the process but the congressmen point out in their letter that “recent court rulings have determined that the federal government may verify the validity of unpatented claims at any time.
“As you also know, without a valid claim, a mining claimant does not have any rights against the United States to develop the claim,” the letter continues. “Thus, in order to ascertain whether the proponents of the Lucky Jack Project do indeed have rights against the United States to develop its unpatented mining and millsite claims, we respectfully request that your offices commit to conducting a claim validity review and ensure that all unpatented claims to be used by the project are valid prior to approving any plan of operation for the Lucky Jack Mine.”
Given the location of the proposed mine, which sits in the watershed of the Town of Crested Butte, the congressmen are making the request in part to ensure the water quality remains safe.
Gunnison County Commissioner Jim Starr said the request by the congressmen is a reasonable one. “I think they want to be sure before a lot of time is spent that the proponents have enough land to do all they need to do,” he said. “I think it is always a good idea to make sure issues like access and sufficient amounts of land are dealt with before a lot of time and money is spent by the proponents or the regulating bodies. They may feel there has been a lot of questions with this project and so they want the basic needs covered.”
Perry Anderson, Director of Community Relations for the Lucky Jack project had not seen the letter until Wednesday morning but after a first reading he pretty much agreed with the sentiments of Starr. “It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request,” he said. “It’s like building a house, you want to make sure you have the land. Over the years I think these claims have been checked but we understand it is probably part of the process.”
High Country Citizens’ Alliance Public Lands Director Dan Morse is also pleased with the decision by Udall and Salazar to make the request. HCCA has had discussion about this concept with the Congressmen. “HCCA has been interested in this concept for a long time,” he said. “We think a good number of the mining claims won’t have any molybdenum under them and that would make them invalid.”
According to Morse, each 20-acre mining claim must have the mineral to be mined under it. For each 20-acre claim, a five-acre millsite claim is often granted to the mining company. Morse said that oftentimes, large mining companies overextend their reach for mining claims to pick up more land and keep competition away from the site. “We think U.S. Energy is taking advantage of the claims,” he said. “I think this is a powerful request and we are appreciative the Congressmen have done it. They just want the agencies to implement a policy that is already on the books.”
Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, which represents HCCA, agrees with Morse and doesn’t see this as a delay tactic. “If the agencies do this right, the verification shouldn’t overly delay anything,” he said. “We just feel this is too important an issue to get a free pass on the validity issue with the unpatented mining claims. This is a wise move on the part of the Congressmen.”
The letter was sent this week to Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest Supervisor Charlie Richmond and U.S. BLM State Director Sally Wisely.