So you can spend your Friday night partying with the Crested Butte Town Council and getting your wild side on as you immerse yourself in acronyms. It is Friday after all—maybe do a shot for every acronym you hear or treat it as an acronym bar trivia night. Accumulate points for the ones you know. There’s the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), the MEMC (Mt. Emmons Mining Company), the WTP (Water Treatment Plant, which seems more family friendly than the Water Treatment Facility or WTF). You have the beginner acronyms like HCCA and RLC, and can score intermediate points for knowing state agency stuff like CDPHE and DRMS.
The unusual Friday meeting will focus on a potential mine deal: the black cloud that has hovered over the north end of the valley for four decades as the community moved definitively away from mining and toward tourism (see Denis B. Hall’s column on page 19). The bottom line is that an MOU agreement has been in the works for months between a bunch of local and state political boards and a giant mining company, Freeport-McMoRan. Normally that might be cause for skepticism and concern. But the reality is everyone I’ve talked to who has been involved with the discussions has a smile on their face and a lift in their voice because real progress appears possible.
Skepticism is a part of this place and won’t fade away easily. That’s fair. Plus it is probably appropriate for a measure of skepticism to be a part of the deal in these early stages. As has been stated, there are a lot of knots left to untie to make this deal complete. But the difference is there appears to be an honest partnership. All sides—the local governments, the state and federal regulatory agencies and the private mining company—all swear they want to work together to untie those knots and do it expeditiously. There is commonality of purpose.
That is very different from the years when myriad mining companies came in to announce they could do an “environmentally friendly mine” and make the community rich through increased tax revenues and jobs. The community was beyond skeptical whenever it heard that sales pitch—it was protective and resolute of its quality of life and it fought every such foray successfully.
This time, it appears the mining company understands it has an obligation to the community, both legally and morally, to protect the water and environment around the mine. In the most basic of laymen’s terms, based on past actions, Freeport is tied to the mine site and has some potential responsibility to make sure it doesn’t blow up. If it does, they could be on the hook. So, it seems to me this deal is probably a cheap insurance policy for them, as opposed to waiting for something bad to happen and then getting the bill.
Looking over Freeport’s recent public news announcements and year-end financial report, putting up even several million dollars and trying to work out solutions with Red Lady amounts to an accounting error by an intern. Capital expenditures amounted to $6.35 billion for the year 2015. The current commodities market is hammering the company and the stock but Freeport is one of the world’s largest mining companies. Its debt, its revenues and its expenditures are all calculated in the billions. Last week, the corporation announced it had reached an agreement to sell a 13 percent stake in a southeast Arizona copper mine to a Japanese partner that will raise $1 billion in cash.
Plus Freeport has enough molybdenum at two other Colorado mines (Climax and Henderson) to not worry about the colossal cost and associated massive headache of trying to open another mine in the middle of the United States three miles west of the hornet’s nest of Crested Butte.
The company is also pulling back on its Henderson molybdenum mine, resulting in an approximate 65 percent reduction in Henderson’s annual production volume. Doesn’t sound like the company needs to open another moly mine any time soon.
This Red Lady deal is real but it’s probably not at the top of the corporate agenda at every meeting.
The bottom line is that working relationships are important when striking a deal. In this case, it appears a good group of people have gotten together, earned each other’s trust and started what could be the beginning of the end of the precarious water treatment plant and enduring mine issue on Red Lady. A corner has been turned.
So show up Friday night in the Crested Butte Town Hall, ask a few questions, learn a few new acronyms, support what looks like the start of a good deal for the community and encourage the council to sign on to the MOU so we can EANE (Enter a New Era).
P.S. In a somewhat ironic note, it was pointed out to me Tuesday that the other event taking place at the same time as the MOU meeting – is the Miner’s Ball at the museum.