Down To Earth

Jan 13, 2011 7:57 AM by Bea Karnes

Panel upholds OK of mine plan near Crested Butte

DENVER (AP) - Colorado officials have rejected a conservation group's challenge of a company's plan to look for molybdenum at an old mining site near Crested Butte.

High Country Citizens' Alliance executive director Dan Morse said his group is disappointed and reviewing its next steps. "We're very concerned about the protection of water quality for Crested Butte," Morse said.

The group had appealed state approval of a revised plan by U.S. Energy Corp. for a mine tunnel and other work at Mount Emmons, nicknamed the Red Lady for its reddish soil.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board's 4-1 vote Wednesday to uphold the approval was just part of a yearslong dispute over plans for large-scale mining near the ski resort town and mountain biking mecca.

The site, once mined for silver, lead and zinc, has gone through a string of owners looking for molybdenum since the 1970s but is now operated by U.S. Energy Corp., working with Thompson Creek Metals Co.

U.S. Energy Corp. CEO Keith Larsen said his Riverton, Wyo.-based company is still years away from mining but that today's environmental and safety regulations will help keep operations safe.

The company says its proposed plans are to determine whether it's commercially viable at today's prices and industry standards to mine molybdenum, which is used to strengthen steel.

The High Country Citizens' Alliance had argued the plans represented not just prospecting but development, which requires a more thorough review before a permit is issued.

The group also said the state should order the company to get locally required permits before activity begins and to post enough bond to cover costs of water-quality treatment.

It noted that in December, state health department officials advised U.S. Energy Corp. of possible water contamination violations after stormwater runoff showed high levels of cadmium, aluminum and zinc. The company said it's working to resolve those concerns.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety stood by its approval of the company's plans Wednesday. Staff told the reclamation board that U.S. Energy Corp. hasn't even prospected yet, that it's not up to the board to enforce local rules, and that protections are in place to pay for water treatment should U.S. Energy Corp. walk away.

Staff suggested the company could even ask for a lower bond because its revised plan is scaled down. Larsen said after the hearing his company hasn't decided whether to seek a lower bond.

Reclamation board members acknowledged citizens' concerns but mostly deferred to division staff.

Larsen said if mining does start at Mount Emmons, it would create jobs with salaries likely topping $50,000.

"What we'd really like to be is a showcase for how mining could be done right," Larsen said.

The High Country Citizens' Alliance formed in 1977 and spent years challenging the sale of public land for mining at Mount Emmons for prices like $5 an acre under an 1872 mining law. Federal appeals court judges said the group couldn't challenge the sales as a third party, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up the case.

 

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