Red Lady land exchange continues to move ahead

Easement between mining company and land trust prohibits future mining

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Representatives of the Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC) want to assure the public that a proposed land exchange meant to be part of a complicated equation that would ultimately prohibit mineral extraction on Red Lady is on track. A story in the June 24 issue of the Crested Butte News reported some behind the scenes bumps in the negotiations based on town attorney comments, but MEMC spokesman Jim Telle said all is well.

“We anticipate the land exchange process will continue throughout 2022 with extensive opportunity for public input through MEMC meetings, open house events and a U.S. Forest Service public comment period. MEMC is currently anticipating the exchange to be complete mid-2023,” he said. 

Basically, the 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. 

Crested Butte town attorney Barbara Green had raised some initial concern in June that the conservation easement language in the written documents associated with the land exchange did not match the verbal understandings between all the impacted parties. “In May 2022, MEMC sent revised drafts of the conservation easement and mineral extinguishment agreement to CBLT,” a memo to the town council 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…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.”

Telle said this week that the conservation easement would be handled between the company and the Crested Butte Land Trust. He reiterated that upon completion of the land exchange, MEMC would implement a conservation easement and mineral extinguishment agreement that will “permanently and forever: Prohibit commercial extractive mining on all MEMC lands post exchange; prohibit commercial and residential development on all MEMC lands post exchange; and allow for non-motorized public access to higher elevation portions of MEMC land while restricting access for public safety to currently industrialized portions of the MEMC property.”

He said that the town and Gunnison County were asked for and supplied “significant content” for the land exchange deal and MEMC and the Forest Service incorporated suggested wording from the government entities when drafting the conservation easement and mineral extinguishment language. 

“The conservation easement and mineral extinguishment agreements are legally binding and enforceable between MEMC and Crested Butte Land Trust,” Telle said. “The town and county, while not a party to the agreements between MEMC and the Crested Butte Land Trust, do have the ability to enforce the non-mining and development restriction provisions in the conservation easement, such as year-round non-motorized recreational access and the prohibition of future residential or commercial development. This enforcement authority is expressly granted to the town and county in the conservation easement.”

Town attorney Green said that the proposed easement works for the town. “The conservation easement satisfies the Town’s goals of preventing mining on or under the Red Lady, and providing public recreation access,” she said. It is expected that the council will review the documents and consider official support in August.

Crested Butte Land Trust executive director Jake Jones agrees the parties are on the same page with the future intentions. “The Land Trust, in partnership with the town and county, have been negotiating the terms of a conservation easement with MEMC on Mt. Emmons since late last year,” he said. “The goals at the outset were to protect against all future mining on Mt. Emmons, provide legal public access to Red Lady Bowl, and ensure there will be no development of the property aside from activities required to clean the water that flows into Coal Creek in perpetuity. We are now all in agreement on the terms of the conservation easement, which will be applied to all lands owned by MEMC, contingent upon the completion of the land exchange. The public will have opportunities to learn more about the protection of Mt. Emmons in the coming weeks and months.” 

Telle said that going forward from the exchange, “MEMC, as it has in the past, will continue to conduct its operations in compliance with all governing laws, regulations and ordinances. This includes operation of the water treatment plant in accordance with permits issues by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.”

He emphasized that the Forest Service will be gaining valuable property in the exchange and that the public will benefit overall when the deal is completed. “The easement and agreement will further reinforce the importance of the land exchange to the public’s interest by forever eliminating commercial mining from Mt. Emmons,” he stated. MEMC is planning to hold public open houses later in the summer to detail the agreement to the public.

In a somewhat related update, Telle said reclamation efforts of the mine area are continuing. “This summer we are planning to complete the recontouring and stormwater channel improvements on the tailings dam surface that we were unable to complete last year due to supply chain and labor availability issues that affected construction across much of the country,” he said. “This work will promote drainage on the tailings dams, reduce the volume of water needing treatment and improve the quality of snow melt and spring runoff entering Coal Creek.”

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