“We are a good team”
by Mark Reaman
The evolving Mt. Emmons mine site situation is not just a local issue since state ramifications come with the site. Colorado regulatory agencies are a part of the deal, along with Gunnison County and the town of Crested Butte. Overall, the state agencies are also pleased with the positive movement taking place.
Last February, it was announced that the Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), a subsidiary of international mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc., acquired the mining site from U.S. Energy. U.S. Energy had been experiencing financial difficulties in recent months and the company was recently restructured.
The site acquisition came with the water treatment plant (WTP) on Mt. Emmons, also known as Red Lady, along with the mining permits, some land and the buildings. Under EPA regulations, Freeport had ties to the site when it purchased mining company Phelps Dodge in 2007. MEMC was a part of Phelps Dodge that controlled the mining rights and built the water treatment plant. Once tied to a site, a company always carries some potential liability for that site.
The county, town, MEMC and the state all entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) after the acquisition from U.S. Energy. That MOU outlines a path toward a permanent solution to keep the WTP secure and operating and to potentially take the idea of mining molybdenum off the Red Lady table.
Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) director Ginny Brannon said the new developments are a “very positive move” from the state’s perspective.
“The site is in a better financial position with Freeport,” Brannon explained. “There has been concern that the treatment plant might stop operating for lack of funding and this assuages those concerns.”
Brannon said the change has brought good direction but it comes with hard work on the part of the mining company, the state and the local entities. “We are collaborating on a number of issues at the site. We’ve had numerous long meetings that were hard work, but we’ve always kept in mind that we have the same goals,” Brannon said. “We are a good team.”
The Water Quality Control Division of the state Department of Public Health and the Environment is a part of the MOU and it too is pleased with the transition of the mine site.
“All parties are working together. The move from U.S. Energy has changed the situation for the better,” said Water Quality Control Division director Patrick Pfaltzgraff. “The division has worked collaboratively with our sister agencies, local government and Freeport during the transfer of the site to discuss current and future issues.
“There is certainty for ongoing water treatment at the site and a commitment to work together on the issues at the site,” Pfaltzgraff continued.
Regular meetings between all the parties involved in the MOU continue to take place in an effort to come to a permanent solution for the Mt. Emmons site.