Complicated Red Lady deal still complicated as land exchange details are worked out

Conservation easement language not yet public

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

What might be termed some behind the scenes bumps are apparently being navigated in the effort to prohibit all future mining on Mt. Emmons, aka Red Lady. Both the town of Crested Butte and Gunnison County held closed door executive sessions this week to talk about the latest negotiations over a proposed land exchange that is part of the emerging plan to eventually eliminate mining on Red Lady and keep the local water quality intact. 

One bump is apparently the language in the draft conservation easements being proposed to safeguard the traded land to make sure no future mining is allowed on Mt. Emmons. Those easements would be held by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT).

Basically, the Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC) would acquire approximately 450 acres of land on Red Lady from the U.S. Forest Service that contains the aging water treatment plant. The idea is that MEMC would make improvements to the plant more efficiently without having to go through the federal hoops associated with the USFS. In exchange, the Forest Service would get the 160-acre Three Peaks Ranch up Ohio Creek by Carbon Mountain. The two properties would have to be equivalent in value but the goal is to facilitate the exchange quickly and with minimal federal environmental review. 

In a memo to the Crested Butte town council, attorney Barbara Green reviewed the history of the Red Lady situation and said all parties, including the mining company, have clearly stated the common goal is to prohibit mining on Mt. Emmons in perpetuity by any person. “In May 2022, MEMC sent revised drafts of the conservation easement and mineral extinguishment agreement to CBLT,” her memo stated. “The actual language of the drafts, once reviewed by town and county attorneys, did not appear to match the articulated goals of the parties.” When a joint meeting was scheduled to clear up the discrepancy, the town and county provided advance comments to all the parties and then MEMC cancelled the meeting.

“The suite of issues relevant to the mine site and the town’s goals of protecting and enhancing water quality and preventing mining in perpetuity are complicated and interrelated,” Green wrote. 

She told the council that since the meeting cancellation, MEMC had a phone conversation with Crested Butte mayor Ian Billick and county commissioner Roland Mason. This past weekend, the MEMC submitted a new draft of the proposed conservation easement to the land trust that included some of the input by the town and county. 

“I think it is moving in the right direction,” Green assured the council. “We just want to make sure the words in the draft meet the words of what we all intended.”

High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) executive director Brett Henderson asked the council by Zoom when the public and HCCA would be able to see the language in the proposed conservation easement. “HCCA has been clear it will support the land exchange with easements in place that prohibit mining,” he said. “We’d like the easements to be made public so we can be sure the land exchange is accomplishing that goal.”

Green explained that because MEMC and the CBLT are not public entities like a government body, they are not legally bound to make the document public. “Until the easements are settled between the land trust and mining company, there is no obligation to release the language,” she said. “But the intent is that the town and the county have to agree that the language in the easement says what they say it says. At that point it would be released to the public, and primarily HCCA that has been a major part of the process.”

“It is a complex deal and everyone wants to be on the same page and that takes some time,” said Billick.

“Agree. The understanding is that once the CBLT, the town and the county are in agreement, then HCCA and the public can take a look at it,” said Green. 

“I was told that at the next open house held by MEMC the terms of the easement would be open and discussed with the public,” added Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald. “I’m not sure when that would be.”

The council then closed public discussion and went into a closed-door executive session to discuss the matter and potential negotiations in more detail.

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