Throughout the beginning months of 2017, progress has continued toward the objectives outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, state agencies, and the new owner of the mining and millsite claims on Mt. Emmons (also known as Red Lady) and associated water treatment facilities.

Shortly after the New Year, the new owner, 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 Keystone Mine.  This approved proposal permits MEMC to collect necessary data from lands disturbed by the Keystone 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).  As of this week, MEMC wrapped up 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 continue to be implemented during the summer work season after the snow has melted out fully.

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/or could be taken to further reduce metal loading.  HCCA supports the efforts to gather this information and commends MEMC/Freeport for its initiative.

Discussions have also continued to unfold regarding the withdrawal of unpatented mining and millsite claims.  Earlier this month, HCCA was officially invited to the table with the MOU signatories and other essential stakeholders to discuss this objective.  As was mentioned at the joint Town Council and Gunnison County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, 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.”

“High Country Conservation Advocates plans to stay fully-engaged in problem-solving mode and looks forward to such engagement being undertaken by all other stakeholders as well,” said HCCA’s Executive Director, Brett Henderson.  “It remains our goal to find a permanent solution that will protect Red Lady, water quality, and our community while being agreeable to all stakeholders.”