Kebler is proposed to be a year-round road
If a molybdenum mine in Mt. Emmons is approved and becomes operational, it would be a 24-7-365 operation for the next 33 years. Once up and going, it is expected to employee about 335 miners. More people would be employed to run the water treatment plant and work in the office. Approximately 1,000 people would be needed for mine development and mill construction in the four years before the mine got going at full bore.
In a 190-page proposed Plan of Operations (PoO) submitted to the U.S. Forest Service last fall, mining company U.S. Energy described what it hopes to do in order to extract the millions of tons of ore estimated to lie below Red Lady. The plan became public last week after the High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) filed a Freedom of Information request to gain access to the document. U.S. Energy wanted it to stay under wraps, saying that it contained proprietary information. HCCA plans to put the entire document on its website at www.hccaonline.org where members of the public can access it.
The company wants to develop 12,600 tons of ore each and every day for 33 years after a four-year development period. Kebler Pass Road would get an upgrade to “an all-weather road” so that the mine could use the railroad on the other side of the pass. According to the plan, “the road will be upgraded to generally double lane, and remain unpaved as it traverses Kebler Pass… During the winter and significant snow events, snow will need to be plowed or blown clear of the roadway to maintain trafficable conditions. The snow will be stockpiled on the side of the road. Snow banks will be contoured from time to time to reduce the effects from snow drifting or potential obstruction to vehicle access.”
Employee access will primarily be through Crested Butte. The plan says the mining company will comply with state and federal air and water quality standards.
“The mine and mill will produce/process approximately 143 million tons of molybdenum ore over the estimated 33-year life of the mine,” the plan describes. “Principal surface facilities will be located on the west slope of Mt. Emmons in the vicinity of the old Keystone Mine and Elk Creek at an elevation of 9,800 feet to 10,000 feet.
Facilities required to support the operation of the mine and mill include structures for maintenance, warehousing, administration, shipping/receiving, security/safety, concentrate storage, cement storage, waste rock storage, portals, and water treatment. Crushing facilities will be located underground (in the mine) to reduce noise and dust. Additional infrastructure includes access roads, electrical power transmission lines and substations, water collection reservoirs with pumping, and pipelines.”
Production output from the mill is expected to be approximately 20 million pounds of contained molybdenum per year.
The mine would use quite a bit of power. “Power requirement for the mine and mill is projected to be 50 to 62 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity,” the plan states. “Electric power will be purchased from the Gunnison County Electric Association. A new transmission line will be installed paralleling the existing transmission line from the Skito Substation (located near the town of Gunnison) up Ohio Creek (County Road 730); then north up Carbon Creek (County Road 737) to the Highland Ranch area. The line will then go overland, through Splain’s Gulch following the access roads to the Mill.”
The mine would also use a fair amount of water. “Water diverted at the Slate River Intake and the Carbon Creek Intake will be delivered to the three reservoirs, the Carbon Creek Reservoir, the Mill Water Reservoir, and the Elk Creek Reservoir, to be stored for these industrial purposes. Decreed water storage capacity in the three reservoirs totals 3,600 acre feet,” the PoO estimated.
According to the plan, U.S. Energy is aware that the town of Crested Butte has adopted a watershed ordinance. “Legal counsel for U.S. Energy has reviewed the Town of Crested Butte watershed ordinance and has determined that it will not affect operations under this Plan of Operations,” the plan states.
In a press release from HCCA that won the release of the plan through a Freedom of Information Act request, the environmental organization says the plans appear over the top. “This proposal cannot be measured on a scale of anything the Gunnison Valley has previously experienced. Mining Red Lady would fundamentally alter the economy and lifestyle of Crested Butte. It would result in the loss of the scenic, recreation, wildlife, and water quality values we enjoy today,” said HCCA’s executive director Greg Dyson.
According to HCCA, the PoO outlines very real impacts to water quality, but glosses over these concerns. HCCA’s water director Jennifer Bock points out, “We drink this water and we fish in these streams. U.S. Energy acknowledges that there is already acid mine drainage from the old Keystone Mine on Mt. Emmons, but in the same document, claims that there will be no new impacts to aquatic life or water quality from their mine. This is unrealistic given what we’ve seen at other moly mines such as Climax near Leadville.”
Red Lady Coalition president Bill Ronai said he has had an initial review of the preliminary Plan of Operations and also has some concerns. “The document touches on what we would consider to be the major topics. However, it is pretty superficial, especially with regard to many of the factors that impact our amenity-driven economy in the Gunnison Valley, which creates in excess of 5,000 basic jobs,” he said. “No studies (beyond a referenced 1982 EIS) have been done with respect to environmental or socio-economic impacts and there is no mention of any studies looking at cumulative impacts, which could potentially be critical given the lifespan of the proposed project.
“We are surprised to see that a mining rate of 12,600 tons per day is proposed,” Ronai continued. “This compares to a rate of 6,000 tons per day proposed by Behre Do bear in their 1998 study and then re-confirmed for Kobex and U.S. Energy in their 2007 report. We would need to fully understand all of the economics and impacts of underground mining at this rate. The absence of a business plan prohibits any meaningful analysis.”
In a letter to the Forest Service last fall before they had seen the plan, the RLC asked the USFS to examine the plan with great care. “We believe it will affect the entire economic way of life in the county and could adversely affect the watershed on which the community depends for its water supply,” the letter stated.
Being the closest town to the mine with its water supply originating in the same area, Crested Butte would certainly feel an impact. Mayor Aaron Huckstep said the Town Council is keeping an eye on the movement. “The town is keenly aware of U.S. Energy’s submission of the plan with the U.S. Forest Service. As it relates to U.S. Energy’s development plans on Mt. Emmons, the town may ultimately serve as a permitting authority under its Watershed Protection District law. Accordingly, the town does not have any opinion regarding U.S. Energy’s plan at this time,” he said.
U.S. Energy says although a temporary shutdown of operations is not planned, circumstances beyond the control of the project may require a temporary cessation of operations. “In the event that the facility has to be temporarily closed due to severe weather conditions, unfavorable economic conditions, or for other reasons, a security caretaker crew will remain onsite through the temporary closure period.”
While there is no formal opportunity for the public to comment at this time, if the Forest Service accepts the PoO, procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will trigger extensive public involvement in environmental analysis. The Forest Service has said it is waiting on further information that it has requested from U.S. Energy before making a decision on whether or not to formally accept the PoO and move to a NEPA process.