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Mt. Emmons Mining Co. withdraws its Plan of Operations

Shifting focus to water treatment plant

By Mark Reaman

Another significant step in the long walk to end the idea of mining on Mt. Emmons was taken this last week.

The Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEM) sent a letter to Gunnison District forest ranger John Murphy on May 9 instructing the Forest Service to “terminate its processing of the various pending applications, including any Plan of Operations (PoO) previously filed by US Energy. Accordingly, the USFS should also terminate any analytical work associated with such applications, such as NEPA-related assessments.”

In other words, the subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan that acquired the moly mine site from U.S. Energy is stopping any immediate intention to pursue mining activities on Red Lady.

As part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the company, the town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County and various Colorado regulatory departments, the company will move toward upgrading and protecting the water treatment plant that sits on Red Lady and treats contaminated water. The idea is to eventually move toward a complete transition from any chance of mining on Mt. Emmons.

“In the coming weeks, MEM will be filing with your office a PoO to address the water treatment site, including a reclamation bond,” the letter, signed by MEM remediation projects manager David Gosen, states. “As we have indicated, having only acquired the site on February 11 of this year, MEM is currently focused on storm and surface water quality issues and we expect to start that work once the snow melts.”

Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten said this isn’t the last step on the journey but it is very positive movement in the process. “This is certainly a significant step,” he said. “It is not the final part of the deal but it is a big step in the direction we all embarked on together through the MOU. The Mt Emmons representatives are being as good as their word.”

Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin agreed that the company’s correspondence to the Forest Service is meaningful. “Mt. Emmons Mining Company’s letter to the Forest Service is an important first step towards ending the mining threat on Mt. Emmons,” he said. “In many ways, it is a historic first step and reflects the commitment by MEM and Freeport to retiring the mine. We at the town are working closely with MEM, their attorneys and business team, to affect the matters in the memorandum of understanding, and we thank MEM for taking this important first step in the larger process.”

The High Country Conservation Advocates noted that under federal law, approval of a PoO is required before any mining-related activities can occur on public land. U.S. Energy had previously submitted to the Forest Service, and the agency was considering, two PoOs, one for the large mine proposal (submitted in 2012) and the other for a preliminary drilling program (submitted in 2014) to gather geotechnical and other data to support the main mine proposal. HCCA feels the latest action is major.

“These are significant positive developments toward a long-term, sustainable, and permanent solution for Red Lady and our watershed,” said Alli Melton, High Country Conservation Advocates’ Red Lady program director. “Now, with the termination of the PoO for the mine and with the intention to submit a PoO for the WTP, the skies are clearing over Red Lady. The reclamation bond, in tandem with Freeport/MEMC prepaying WTP operation for the next two years, as provided in the MOU, is much needed assurance that HCCA, other community groups, and the town and county have unwaveringly sought for years.”

Melton made it clear that the parrot isn’t dead yet and there is still much hard work to be done before finding a permanent mine-free solution for Red Lady and protection for the watershed, but major progress is continuing.

The Red Lady Coalition agrees with that assessment. “We think that this is excellent news and reconfirms our support for the MOU,” said Red Lady Coalition president Bill Ronai. “There is much work still to be done, but the letter clearly shows that Freeport is pursuing their stated intentions.”

Belkin told the Town Council on Monday that there is plenty of activity with the mine transition process. “After the snow melts, there will be a series of site visits to the site,” he said. “We have been creating a lot of maps of the property to help with the land transfers. There are lots of things in the works. Everyone is cooperating well. It’s all goodness.”

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