Comment letters due by end of the month
The gathering in a Western State College ballroom Tuesday evening was like old times, with plenty of familiar faces discussing a familiar topic.
Local citizen activists like Sue Navy, Sandy Shea and Glo Cunningham made the trip to Gunnison for the first of two meetings sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) this week to discuss Geotechnical Baseline Studies proposed by the mining company.
Forester Jeff Burch, county commissioner Hap Channell, High Country Citizens’ Alliance stalwarts Dan Morse and Dickie Brown, along with US Energy vice president Fred Kraft were there as well. It won’t be the last time they all find themselves in the same room talking about the proposed molybdenum mine.
What is likely to be the first of many Forest Service-sponsored meetings about the proposed moly mine on Mt. Emmons was civil and mellow. The purpose of the meetings was for the USFS to explain its role in the proposed study the mining company would like to perform this summer. The meeting drew about 100 people in Gunnison. A Wednesday meeting in Mt. Crested Butte was expected to draw more people and more fireworks.
Facilitated by Kathleen Bond of KTB Decision Resources, the “informational” meeting was set up to include a presentation period that lasted a bit more than an hour followed by an “open house”-type format where people could ask questions of specific resource specialists. In fact, of the 100 people at the meeting, well more than a dozen wore USFS or Bureau of Land Management uniforms.
Bond said one goal was for citizens to gather information so they could make specific written comments to the Forest Service concerning the studies. The deadline for the comments is Monday, January 31. “No notes are being taken at these meetings,” Bond said. “Comments are best done in writing.”
Forest Service representatives explained the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process that would guide review of the proposed studies. Forester Jeff Burch said the process would go through an EA (Environmental Assessment). “We’re not examining a full-scale mine plan right now,” he emphasized.
Gunnison district ranger John Murphy admitted to the crowd that the “Mt. Emmons project has the potential to be as controversial or more controversial than recent controversial projects dealt with by the Forest Service, like the proposed Travel Management Plan or the Snodgrass expansion.”
Tom Buchta of the Forest Service Region 2 office explained that the agency could not turn down the request for the studies. He gave a brief history of U.S. mining law to the crowd and said the Forest Service must either approve the plan as submitted or require changes that mitigate impacts of the plan. “We cannot categorically deny a reasonable plan of operations,” he said. “We have limits on our authority. We can regulate the activity but we can’t refuse a plan of operations.”
U.S. Energy representative Fred Kraft gave an overview of the proposed plan. He said the company wasn’t sure of the best places to site mining infrastructure like tailings deposits and reservoirs. These tests, being conducted essentially between the Oh-Be-Joyful drainage to the Carbon Creek valley, would help determine such placements.
Kraft said helicopters would be used to transport equipment and work crews but he couldn’t say how often the choppers would be flying in the nearby valleys. “It depends on weather and timing and we can’t make a prediction at this time,” he said. “But helicopters are expensive so we want to be efficient and get them in and out of the work areas as quickly as possible.”
Kraft said the tests would ideally be conducted during daylight hours between July 1 and mid-November.
Crested Butte businessman Jeff Deutsch commented after the question-and-answer session that it might be worth asking the Forest Service to mitigate the helicopter impact by not allowing flights in July and August. “That’s our prime tourism season and if visitors see a bunch of mining helicopters flying around, it could discourage them from returning here in the future. That’s something people should write to the Forest Service about before the comment period deadline on Monday.”
Comments should be sent to: Mt. Emmons Geotechnical Baseline Study, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, 2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416-2485. Email comments can be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call Burch at (970) 874-6649.