Wednesday, October 16, 2019
photo by Andrew Bisdale

Synchronicity & Red Lady

When lawyers and scientists start throwing around concepts like serendipity and connectedness, you know we have something to be thankful for this holiday weekend. The synchronicity of life can be subtle or shocking, but it is always happening and wonderful when it is noted.

Let’s look at a powerful example of the connectedness as it directly relates to a shadow that has loomed over the north end of the valley for 40-some years: The Red Lady mine situation.

As Crested Butte shifted from a mining economy to a tourist-based economy, the idea of a new industrial molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons upset some of the new folks in the upper valley. Despite the history of mining in this mountain village, they (we) fought the idea with brains and brawn over the decades. It became a part of the Crested Butte story and its culture.

And now—sort of out of nowhere—there appears a new and initially promising path to lead the valley toward an end to this particular shadow. A mining firm with experience and money, Freeport-McMoRan, appears to understand it has a nebulous but legal connection to the aging water treatment plant on Coal Creek. While it never thought of mining here, one of the companies it bought years ago did. And that connection matters legally under federal Superfund regulations. So Freeport seems to be willing to stand tall and talk about how it can help address a seemingly never-ending issue.

County attorney David Baumgarten used the connectivity description. He gave some examples of the various threads that seem to be coming together to form the new path.

A. The connected efforts of the community and its citizens over decades;

B. The maturing and strengthening of the relationships between the local governments and the State;

C. The coordination between the State’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety with the State’s Water Quality Control Division (in completely different State departments) thanks to their Directors and staff;

D. The coordination of the local, state and federal governments;

E. The candor of Freeport in being directly at the table;

F. The unfortunate but teachable moment that the Animas spill provides;

G. Perhaps the realization by new U.S. Energy officials reflected in the third quarter financials of liability and cost outweighing the slight prospect of future development. 

There is a respect and gratitude in Baumgarten’s examples to the work that took place from the early hippies in town to the current businessmen and women on the Red Lady Coalition, the tenacious enthusiasts of HCCA and the general citizens of the valley who wrote a letter or said a prayer to keep Red Lady free of a new mine.

He acknowledges the growing relationships between not only local governments in the valley but between those governments and the state and the feds—relationships not always on common ground, by the way. He recognizes the needed thread of a major mining group with resources to deal with a mining legacy in our backyard and that company being willing to be honest and helpful. Throw in a national calamity when a toxic spill contaminated the Animas River and plummeting energy prices that have wounded U.S. Energy’s ability to comfortably run the water treatment plant (along with new management for that company) and you have the series of developments that has led to this new path. Separate threads that alone are not particularly strong but together weave a powerful potential.

A senior water quality scientist at the state level, Andrew Ross, said that the day after a meeting with the state, town and county over their U.S. Energy concerns, the EPA had a meeting with Freeport-McMoRan to discuss situations like the Gold King Mine incident near Durango. The issue of Superfund liability on the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant was brought up and Freeport understood the situation.

“It was serendipitous timing,” Ross noted.

Yes it was.

Things happen for a reason. The Universe always works, whether you believe it or not. Understand that this is a brand new path. It is an unexplored path. It is a very preliminary path. But it is a path with light. The path may lead to nowhere soon. It may shine a light on the shadow to the west of town. It may lead to the final lifting of a weight from the shoulders of the community that has felt the pressure for decades. It may fizzle—or it may explode like a Fourth of July finale. But it is new and there appears to be optimism from everyone.

So here we are on another Thanksgiving weekend. The ski area has opened its lifts and snow is in the forecast. Smart people are working together to solve an old problem. I’m a believer in the Universe—in synchronicity. It appears we are in a time for real thanks. People are noting the connections and how they might all come together in that perfect sweet spot.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone.

—Mark Reaman

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