Featured Photo: Brett Henderson

Over HCCA’s 40 years of preserving Mt. Emmons from the threat of mining, the playing field has taken many different forms. The mining claims and water treatment plant have changed owners five times, but our objective has remained the same: ensure operation of the water treatment plant to treat acid mine drainage from the mine and tailings and advocate for permanent solution that keeps Red Lady mine-free.

In early 2016, the new owner of the mining claims, Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan, submitted a Notice of Intent to the Forest Service for a Tailings Geotechnical Investigation Work Plan for the old Keystone Mine. This approved proposal permits MEMC to collect necessary data from lands disturbed by the mine and associated workings. These lands and workings are located on Forest Service managed land. The “intention [of the Work Plan] is to confirm that the closure of the Site meets current closure requirements and regulations… [as well as] evaluate the stability of the tailings dams.” (Mt. Emmons Mining Company Work Plan, p.1). This summer, MEMC finished installing the Cone Penetrometer Testing, which is a “means of determining tailings density and pore pressure within the tailings.” (Mt. Emmons Mining Company Work Plan, p.6). The remaining activities identified in the Work Plan are expected to be carried out in the coming year.

The Work Plan’s data collection results are important for identifying the current state of the tailings dams and for informing what additional reclamation activities may be necessary and could be taken to further reduce metal loading. HCCA supports the efforts to gather this information and commends MEMC/Freeport for its initiative. Ultimately, additional characterization of the site will lead to a better plan to remediate past mining impacts.

In March 2017, HCCA was invited to the table with the MOU signatories and other essential stakeholders to discuss potential strategies to find a permanent mine-free solution. As was mentioned at the joint Town Council and Gunnison County Commissioners meeting on March 28, 2017, we may have to go slow to go fast. One of the issues that has come up in these discussions is the question of privatizing several hundred acres where the tailings dams, waste rock piles, treatment ponds, and the water treatment plant are located. The County Attorney’s astute analysis at this meeting sums it up nicely: “The issue now is that Freeport would feel better to privatize so as not to have the federal leash on them. But we say we are more comfortable with that federal leash on them.” Moving forward, our shared challenge will be to work together to find a strategy that facilitates thorough remediation of the mine site while providing sufficient oversight, community participation, and adequate backstops to assure that our watershed health is protected for the long-haul.

We are continuing to work with Freeport MEMC and the other MOU signatories toward the common goal of permanently protecting Mt. Emmons and our watershed so they will forever be mine-free.