January 16, 2013
Crested Butte— After winning release of U.S. Energy’s Plan of Operations (PoO), High Country Citizens’ Alliance and the community can now see—for the first time—U.S. Energy’s specific plans for a mine on Mt. Emmons. According to the PoO, the proposed mine on Red Lady, as locals affectionately term Mt. Emmons, would: impact 10,000 acres of public land, require upgrading Kebler Pass to a two lane road, include pumping the Slate River, and necessitate dams on Upper Ohio Creek, Carbon Creek, and Elk Creek. “This proposal cannot be measured on a scale of anything the Gunnison Valley has previously experienced. Mining Red Lady would fundamentally alter the economy and lifestyle of Crested Butte. It would result in the loss of the scenic, recreation, wildlife, and water quality values we enjoy today,” said HCCA’s Executive Director Greg Dyson. The PoO outlines plans for mine sludge to be stored in tailings ponds at the western base of Whetstone Mountain, a 46,000 square foot mill building just off Kebler Pass Road, and an estimated 32 truck trips per day across the treasured scenic byway from the mine site to the North Fork Valley.
In addition, the PoO outlines very real impacts to water quality, but glosses over these concerns. HCCA’s Water Director Jennifer Bock points out, “We drink this water and we fish in these streams. U.S. Energy acknowledges that there is already acid mine drainage from the old Keystone Mine on Mt. Emmons, but in the same document, claims that there will be no new impacts to aquatic life or water quality from their mine. This is unrealistic given what we’ve seen at other moly mines such as Climax near Leadville.” The Town of Crested Butte has taken pains to protect its watershed, yet U.S. Energy dismisses the Town’s ability to protect our drinking water, stating “Legal counsel for U.S. Energy has reviewed the Town of Crested Butte watershed ordinance and has determined that it will not affect operations under this Plan of Operations.”
HCCA is in the process of analyzing the PoO in order to provide more details to the public. The organization, which has opposed mining on Red Lady for over 35 years, is also working to ensure that the PoO meets all Forest Service requirements and that the agency follows proper protocol as it considers the PoO and its impacts on the local environment. While there is no formal opportunity for the public to comment at this time, if the Forest Service accepts the PoO, procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will trigger extensive public involvement in environmental analysis.
Ultimately, said HCCA’s Board President, Rich Karas, the organization’s aim is to reach a permanent solution to the mine issues through negotiations, “We believe that both HCCA’s and U.S. Energy’s time and resources are much better spent in negotiations rather than debating a mining plan.” HCCA and U.S. Energy, along with the Town of Crested Butte and Red Lady Coalition announced in May 2011 that the groups had begun discussions aimed at a land exchange package which would permanently end the threat of mining on Mt. Emmons.