Another major step taken in Red Lady resolution

The beginning of the real end…

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

It is not yet the end of a 45-year struggle, but it feels like the beginning of the end as the roadmap on how to specifically prohibit future extractive mining activity and development on Mt. Emmons is now being laid out in legal documents. It would also allow continued limited recreation use on the mountain. The Crested Butte town council, the Gunnison County commissioners along with the High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) and the Coal Creek Coalition all gave their nod of approval for the agreements that will be between the Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC) and the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT). 

The two documents are a Conservation Easement (CE) and an Extinguishment Agreement over mineral and development rights. The property impacted includes private land owned by MEMC as well as U.S. Forest Service land that MEMC is seeking to acquire for the Forest Service in a proposed land exchange. 

Basically, the MEMC would acquire approximately 450 acres of land on Mt. Emmons from the U.S. Forest Service that contains the water treatment plant. The idea is that MEMC would make improvements to the aging plant more efficiently without having to go through the federal process associated with the federal government. 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. But there would still be opportunity where public comment would be solicited.

“When this path first came up, the privatization element was a concern for a lot of people, including the town,” Crested Butte town attorney Barbara Green told the town council at the August 2 meeting. “These are the documents that alleviate those concerns. We believe between the Conservation Easement and Extinguishment Agreement, it accomplishes those goals and objectives.”

“We feel like this puts us on the cusp of a landmark decision with the Mt. Emmons mining,” said CBLT executive director Jake Jones. “The land exchange will happen parallel with the Conservation Easement and Extinguishment Agreement. A lot of experienced people looked at every aspect of both agreements. I’m not sure this type of agreement has happened anywhere else, so once again this community is a trendsetter. The CBLT is honored to be the grantee of the CE when this closes.”

Jones explained that the agreements kick in and are formally in play when the land exchange is completed. “The Conservation Easement documents will be recorded contingent upon the completion of the land exchange,” he explained. “The document drafts are substantially complete and we are doing some on-the-ground diligence work, such as the Baseline Documentation Report, this summer. Once the diligence work is done the documents will be in escrow until the closing of the land exchange.”  

Gunnison County commissioner Roland Mason said the board of commissioners were all on board after meeting with county attorney Matthew Hoyt in an executive session on August 2 to review the documents. 

“We feel that it meets the county’s bullet points for the 2016 and 2021 MOU with MEMC, the town of Crested Butte and the county. And we look forward to future steps in working through the land exchange as we move forward,” said Mason. “We’re ready to take on the next steps to get this mining [potential] forever removed.”

“This is a very important moment in a 45-year process,” stated HCCA executive director Brett Henderson. “HCCA is excited to see the next steps unfold. This is exciting news.”

“We too are very excited,” added Coal Creek Coalition executive director Ashley Bembenek.  “We are very excited about the end result of what the CE and Extinguishment Agreement accomplishes.”

Citizen and HCCA board member Sue Navy has been involved in the Red Lady struggle for its entirety. “I know it’s not over yet, but it has been a long 45 years to get to this momentous point,” she said. “I hope the rest goes smoothly to accomplish the land exchange and this all finally gets put to bed and we can have a party on the summit of Red Lady.”

“It is super exciting,” added environmental attorney and former HCCA Public Lands director Alli Melton. “The only additional encouragement would be to secure a federal administrative mineral withdrawal for the federal lands surrounding the Mt. Emmons property and exchanged lands. As much as we hope the CORE Act will be passed and signed into law, getting legislation passed in Congress is challenging these days. An administrative withdrawal would importantly provide us additional time, even 20 years to get legislation passed that would help further secure mine-free Red Lady future.” 

“It is a privilege to be involved in the process just a little bit,” said Crested Butte mayor Ian Billick. “We still need to keep our head down and keep working. This is part of the journey.”

The Mount Emmons Mining Company has scheduled a community open house to discuss the land exchange and latest steps in the process with any interested members of the public for Wednesday, August 24 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts.

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