Agreement reached between local governments and mining company

Clear path to eliminate mining potential from Red Lady

[ By Mark Reaman ]

A final agreement that would permanently ensure that mining activity is not conducted in the area surrounding Mt. Emmons is closer than ever. The town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County and the Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC) are all on the same page with a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to this week that effectively details the path forward to end the possibility of mining Red Lady while still allowing some recreational possibilities like hiking the mountain to ski in winter.

“It is pretty amazing actually,” Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald told the council at the July 19 council meeting. “We have a willing partner in the mine owner and they are taking significant steps to stop the ability to mine on that mountain.”

The Red Lady fight has been going on since the 1970s when a significant molybdenum deposit was discovered. The town has fought the idea of a mine since then, but the current owner of the mining claims is a subsidiary of worldwide mining giant Freeport McMoRan that has shown not only lack of desire to develop the mine but a significant willingness to give up the claims while continuing to control the water treatment plant on the site.

In a memo to council, town manager Dara MacDonald explained that the MEMC had notified the US Forest Service of its intent to pursue a land exchange to acquire approximately 450 acres of Forest Service land adjoining the 365 acres already owned by the company. The 450 acres includes property where the water treatment plant is located and MEMC wants control of the property to more easily make changes to the plant without going through the Forest Service review process. The land exchange proposal includes placing a conservation easement on portions of the property restricting future mining and milling activities and allowing for certain public recreation. MacDonald’s memo said, “the conservation easement would extinguish the ability to mine the ore body.” The town has also committed to pay MEMC $2 million when a mineral withdrawal is completed.

Approximately 9,000 acres of land on and around the mountain would also be withdrawn from future mineral exploration. That will be done through a federal legislative withdrawal through an Act of Congress. That is expected to be completed by expanding on the withdrawal areas already included in the CORE (Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy) Act. By adding the area encompassing the claims on and around Mt. Emmons to the adjacent Greater Thompson Divide area, the claims now held by MEMC could be included in a permanent legislative withdrawal from future mining claims. The process would be finally completed by the mine abandoning the 1,365 unpatented mining and mill site claims after the CORE Act becomes law and the land exchange is completed.

“This all will take an actual Act of Congress but the CORE Act is poised to do this,” MacDonald explained. “Effectively no one else could come in and file mining claims there. It would be a permanent withdrawal. This is a huge step if we can get these claims in the CORE Act and it sends a strong message to Washington if the town, the county and the mining company are all in agreement.”

She said representatives of the entities have been in active contact with Senator Michael Bennet’s office to make the necessary changes.
“The High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) supports the general concept of this MOU,” HCCA executive director Brett Henderson told the council. “We are excited to see this path forward laid out in writing. We commend the town and especially Dara for the efforts to protect Red Lady.”

Gunnison County commissioner Roland Mason agreed. “What’s happened here is significant,” he said. “Working in parallel with the mining company, the county and the town, it overall looks good.”

The county commissioners on Tuesday agreed to sign the MOU as well.

“Thanks everyone for the effort,” said Sue Navy who has been actively involved in the Red Lady fight since the very beginning. “This is a most amazing step and while there is still a ways to go, I hope it all proceeds from here without a hitch.”

In MacDonald’s memo she estimated the time for total completion would be about three years. “As contemplated in the MOU, this transaction would take place upon the successful completion of the land exchange, recording of the conservation easement and disposition of the unpatented mining claims. A land exchange like this is expected to take about three years, so payment (of the $2 million) would likely not take place until 2023 at the earliest.” The town has already earmarked that money from its reserve funds.

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