Throughout the summer, High Country Conservation Advocates has continued our non-stop efforts to ensure a mine-free Mt. Emmons and a protected Coal Creek.  As many of you know, Mt. Emmons is the iconic mountain just west of Crested Butte that locals endearingly call “Red Lady.”  HCCA was founded in 1977 to protect Red Lady, Crested Butte, and the Upper Gunnison River watershed from a proposed molybdenum mine on this mountain.

Historic developments in late winter and spring of 2016 led to a new owner (Mt. Emmons Mining Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan (MEMC/Freeport)), of the private lands and ore body, as well as mining claims that are on federally managed land.  These developments included a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into by the Town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, MEMC/Freeport, and state regulatory and permitting agencies that outlines a path forward for protecting the Coal Creek watershed and securing a permanently mine-free Red Lady.

The MOU marks the first time the owner of the property and mineral interests has stated that it intends to dispose of the private lands and ore body, as well as the mining claims on federally managed land.  A few months after the MOU, MEMC/Freeport terminated all mine Plan of Operations related to a proposed molybdenum mine on Red Lady and announced that it would soon file a Plan of Operation (PoO) for the operation and reclamation of the Water Treatment Plant (WTP).  The WTP treats acid mine drainage from the historic Keystone Mine workings, removing heavy metals before discharging the water into Coal Creek.

Our Red Lady work this summer has focused on the state process HCCA has been involved in since 2012.  This process is expected to set site-specific standards for what is known as Segment 12 of Coal Creek, which is upstream of Crested Butte.  Last year concluded a three-year Study Plan that was to identify man-made and natural sources of metal loading into Coal Creek, and to determine the reversibility of such loading sources.  The Study Plan results and new ownership of the properties and mineral interests have allowed the state agencies, the Town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, and HCCA to start exploring what can be done to reduce metal loading into Coal Creek and to determine what standard(s) are feasible and protective of aquatic life.  This work will continue to ramp up throughout the remainder of the year as we approach the June 2017 hearing date before the Water Quality Control Commission regarding water quality standards on Coal Creek.

To provide greater understanding for those involved in this water quality process, MEMC/Freeport invited representatives from state agencies, the Town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, and HCCA to tour the WTP and the mine property.  On this tour we learned that the company is honing in on what could be done to remove and reduce heavy metal contamination stemming from areas affected by the historic Keystone Mine.  We look forward to continuing open dialogue with all those involved in the site-specific standards process and exploring ways to reduce heavy metal loading in Coal Creek.  Our goal is to achieve, with all those involved in this process, water quality standards that will be protective of aquatic life, and capture water quality improvements that may result from removing and reducing heavy metal contamination in Coal Creek.

In addition to our summer work, we are pleased to share recent news relevant to the objectives outlined in the MOU.  Last week, MEMC/Freeport submitted a PoO for the operation and reclamation of the WTP (WTP PoO) to the Gunnison Ranger District.  The Forest Service is currently reviewing the WTP PoO. The WTP PoO covers the existing WTP and related surface activities for the Mt. Emmons property and the historic Keystone Mine, as well as reclamation bond calculations for the WTP. HCCA is reviewing the WTP PoO and we look forward to seeing how it will help protect our community and watershed.

On August 29, 2016, the Crested Butte Town Council held a special meeting that included a request for approval of a resolution that would allow Town staff to continue working on details of an agreement with MEMC/Freeport and a potential bond issue for the fall 2016 ballot.  The resolution passed unanimously.  We will keep you apprised as this continues to develop.

HCCA commends the Town, County, MEMC/Freeport, and other parties to the MOU for their continued efforts in obtaining the MOU objectives.  We look forward to seeing these efforts continue to move us ever closer to a protected watershed and mine-free Red Lady.