Freeport/MEMC Also Announces Intention to Submit Plan for Water Treatment Plant and a Reclamation Bond for the Plant

2016 is continuing to be an unprecedented year in the 39-year effort to permanently protect Red Lady (also known as Mt. Emmons) and our watershed from an industrial-scale molybdenum mine.  Earlier this year, history was made when Freeport-McMoRan’s wholly owned subsidiary, the Mt. Emmons Mining Company (collectively Freeport/MEMC), acquired from the previous owner, U.S. Energy (USE), USE’s properties and interests on and around Red Lady.  In doing this, Freeport/MEMC also acquired the Water Treatment Plant (WTP), located on the company’s mining claims on Forest Service lands. The WTP treats contaminated water flowing from the historic Keystone Mine workings and tailings before entering Coal Creek, immediately upstream of Crested Butte.  On the heels of this acquisition, the Crested Butte Town Council and Gunnison County, with the support of HCCA and the community, approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding, among other things, (1) the operation of the WTP and (2) Freeport/MEMC’s intention to dispose of the private lands and ore body, as well as the mining claims on federal land.  This marked the first time since the mine threat heated up in the 1970s that the owner of all the mine properties on Red Lady stated that its intention is to dispose of all its interests on the mountain with the goal of ending the mine threat to Red Lady once and for all.

This week, continued progress toward this goal occurred with a letter dated May 9, 2016 (obtained by HCCA on May 13) from Freeport/MEMC to the Forest Service, terminating all pending Plans of Operations (PoOs) with the Forest Service for and related to a proposed molybdenum mine on Red Lady.  Under federal law, approval of a PoO is required before any mining related activities can occur on public land.  U.S. Energy had previously submitted to the Forest Service, and the agency was considering, two PoOs, one for the large mine proposal (submitted in 2012) and the other for a preliminary drilling program (submitted in 2014) to gather geotechnical and other data to support the main mine proposal.

The May 9, 2016 letter told the Forest Service to immediately cease any and all work related to these PoOs, stating: “the USFS should terminate its processing of the various pending applications, including any Plan of Operations (PoO) previously filed by US Energy.”  In the same letter, Freeport/MEMC stated its intention to submit a PoO for the WTP and its intent to post a reclamation bond for the WTP, stating: “In the coming weeks, MEM will be filing with your office a PoO to address the water treatment site including a reclamation bond.”

“These are significant positive developments toward a long-term, sustainable, and permanent solution for Red Lady and our watershed,” said Alli Melton, High Country Conservation Advocates’ Red Lady Program Director.  “Off and on for years, these PoOs have been pending with the Forest Service, hanging over our community like a black cloud.  For all this time, as it has done since the 1970s, HCCA has called upon the Forest Service to comply with federal and state laws to protect our community and our watershed by properly regulating and ensuring full funding for the WTP, as well as rejecting any plan for mining on Mt. Emmons.  Now, with the termination of the PoO for the mine and with the intention to submit a PoO for the WTP, the skies are clearing over Red Lady.  The reclamation bond, in tandem with Freeport/MEMC prepaying WTP operation for the next two years, as provided in the MOU, is much needed assurance that HCCA, other community groups, and the Town and County have unwaveringly sought for years.”

This latest development continues us down the path to finding a permanent mine-free solution for Red Lady and protection for our watershed.  And, even though there’s still much hard work to be done before this is achieved, we are ever closer to this end.

Read the letter terminating the PoOs and announcing Freeport/MEMC’s intentions for a WTP PoO and reclamation bond.  You can also learn more about this year’s other historic events by reading HCCA’s action alert supporting approval of the MOU, HCCA’s update when the MOU was releasedthe MOU, and the Town’s Executive Summary.

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