Impressions of the mining guy…

With the opportunity two weeks ago to meet with the chief executive of the Thompson Creek Metals Company, I thought it only fair to jot down a few impressions.
Kevin Loughrey is smart. You don’t get to be the CEO of a major worldwide mining company without being smart—and charming. By the end of my conversation, I thought he could have had Sue Navy signing a petition of support for a mine. To say the guy is smooth is an understatement. He’s a salesman. And a pretty good one.  Damn it.
I had half hoped he’d come in and just start spewing about how a mine is good for the economy but there’s a small price to be paid. He could have said it might screw up the water a tad and pollute the air a tich and turn just another mountain into a beautiful pile of rubble one rock at a time but it would all be worth it for the economy. He didn’t. Mine guys are different in the 21st century. He didn’t use the term “tree-hugger” once.
To hear him talk, all the mine will do is be close to invisible except when paying the local tax bill, which will be huge. I got the impression from Mr. Loughrey that Thompson Creek Metals Company will come in, drop a wad of cash into our collective pockets and no one will know they were ever here. Snake oil? Perhaps. But it doesn’t matter that much. Just the concept of a mine and recreation don’t mesh.
He asked me to keep an open mind. Okay.
But he also implied he understands his company will have to prove everything they claim they’ll do before they do it. You betcha. Welcome to the valley.
When he talked about how communities where Thompson Creek has a mine worry about the mine shutting down and leaving… as opposed to worrying about them coming… I certainly understand that. Communities change with a mine. To bring in 200 or 400 or 600 jobs dependent on mining, it is of course worrisome when a mine leaves.
There it is, though. The traditional profile of a mining community, including the old Crested Butte, isn’t hard to see. The term “Boom and Bust” is fairly common when applied to mining towns. Loughrey predicts this mine could have a life of six decades. There will be some times in those years that are busier than others.
Boom and Bust.
Last year the folks in Leadville probably felt a boom in their hearts when it was announced the Climax molybdenum mine would ramp up production. Those same people had to feel the bust in their soul just this past Monday when the mine’s owner laid off people and postponed that mine because the price of moly has plunged to $12 a pound.
This community has chosen to go in the direction of tourism to escape some of that boom and bust. While not totally steady, as we’ll probably see this season, a tourism economy doesn’t have the traditional wild swings of mining.
At times Loughrey seemed to diss second-home owners in the valley. Now, let’s not forget that those are the people who provide a lot of depth and money to Crested Butte. At least the current Crested Butte.
He’s not saying a lot that we haven’t heard before and I think most people who have chosen to live here understand that a tourist and second-home economy might not be perfect… but it’s pretty darn sweet most of the time and overall is healthier than a mine economy.
The worm on Mr. Loughrey’s hook is money.
More jobs. Different jobs. An increase in the tax base. Lower power bills. It’s a strong argument for some in a tough economic climate. I’m not sure he understands that a lot of people live here not for the money but for the place. And if the place changes too much too fast, what’s the point?
I went to school in southeastern Ohio. Mining country. I met mining families and became familiar with the mining communities next door. Good people and places. But the change to this valley would be huge. It is that change that is the problem. It’s not about the money or the people but the choice.
There are mining towns to move to now and looking at the Thompson Creek website, they aren’t places many of us would choose to live. Crested Butte in 2008 is a resort… by choice and by design. And just the idea of a mine at the resort probably keeps some people from coming here. It hurts the economic model that those people who have chosen to live here have spent years to mold.
Based on what Mr. Loughrey said last week, I anticipate his company to be in the mix here for a while. When he says they have to prove every positive impact of a potential mine, I agree. And he’s right about this community… Those living here won’t take what he says “on faith.” One other thing is likely as well—the process will not be short. It will be up to every one of us, whether for or against the proposed new use of Red Lady, to hold Mr. Loughrey and his company to that promise of proof for the duration.
I heard what Kevin Loughrey said: Thompson Creek is not afraid to be held to a very high standard of proof.
Now, hopefully my first impression is right… and he really is smart. Smart enough to understand that even the highest standards of proof may not be enough in this case.

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