Feds deny request to verify mine claims

Congressmen Salazar and Udall not pleased with Forest Service

Two political heavyweights got knocked out in an early round by the U.S. Forest Service over the Mt. Emmons molybdenum fight.



The Forest Service rejected the request by Colorado Congressmen John Salazar and Mark Udall to “verify that the unpatented mining and millsite claims associated with the proposed Lucky Jack project are valid prior to approving any plan of operation for the project.”
The two essentially asked that the agencies to make sure the Lucky  Jack project proponent, U.S. Energy Corp, has valid mining claims. The company has 300 patented claims and more than 5,000 acres of unpatented claims. Even Lucky Jack project director of communications Perry Anderson has said that is not an unreasonable request.
In a letter dated July 3 from regional forester Rick Cables on behalf of forest supervisor Charlie Richmond, the Forest Service’s position is that the nature of the request “runs contrary to the policy of both the BLM and the Forest Service.”
The letter also states, “The National Forest System (NFS) lands that are included in the proposed Lucky Jack Project are reserved from the public domain, but remain open to mineral entry and location. Therefore, any of the current unpatented claims that might be determined to be invalid as a result of expensive and time consuming validity examinations could simply be relocated right after such a determination.” In other words, mining claims could be shifted if needed to accommodate mineral extraction.
The regional director of physical resources for the Rocky Mountain region of the Forest Service, Randy Karstaedt explained the decision basically means that the Forest Service doesn’t think “the suggested approach of conducting a validity exam at this time is a prudent use of appropriated money on our part.”
“We will evaluate the claims and what’s reasonable for a mill operation during the plan of operations process,” Karstaedt said.
Salazar and Udall both expressed dissatisfaction with the decision.
“I am disappointed that the Forest Service chose not to conduct a validity examination for the Lucky Jack proposal at this time,” said Salazar.
“I believe this would be an important measure to help ensure this proposal gets the thorough environmental review needed to ensure the nearby watershed is protected. The courts have ruled that the Forest Service has this authority, I’m disappointed that they’re not going to use it.”
Congressman Udall agreed. “The citizens of Crested Butte have serious concerns about this proposed mine, especially related to water,” he said. “It’s clear that the Forest Service has the discretion to conduct this validity review but have chosen not to in this case, which is all the more unfortunate given the concerns surrounding this mine proposal. I will continue to work with Congressman Salazar and the Crested Butte community to address concerns.”
Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz had nothing but praise for the congressmen’s efforts. “I think it is great our representatives had the courage to take a stand,” he said. “But unfortunately the Forest Service and BLM don’t want to make our watershed a priority. People need to understand that this proposed mine would have a huge negative impact on the town’s drinking water.”
BLM communications director Steven Hall said the agency replied to the congressmen on July 9. “In a nutshell, our response says that it is up to the Forest Service whether or not they wish to proceed with the validity examination. If the Forest Service chooses to proceed with the validity examination, the BLM performs the final review of the examination report done by the Forest Service. This is probably an example where the Forest Service has surface jurisdiction and has a role in the decision-making process and the BLM serves as the mineral manager.”
High Country Citizens’ Alliance public lands director Dan Morse was also disappointed in the decision. “Obviously it would have been tremendous if the Forest Service had agreed to the request. But we think it is the tradition of the current administration to not allow such examinations as opposed to the intent of the 1872 Mining Law,” Morse said. “The intent of the request was to have a fair check and balance in place and that didn’t happen. We are considering other ways to have that type of request honored in the future, but we have no immediate solutions.”
Cables’ Forest Service letter did say that a thorough public review of the project would be part of the process. “The Forest Service is very much aware of public sensitivity and concern about the proposed Lucky Jack Mine project,” the letter reads. “We know how important it will be for the State and Federal agencies and the claimants to have a transparent and inclusive public awareness and participation process concerning all aspects of future proposals associated with this project.”

Click here to read the complete letter from the forest service

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