Featured Photo: Lydia Stern

Red Lady Progress Update

Now well into 40 years of protecting Mt. Emmons (known locally as “Red Lady”), we are continuing toward a permanent protective solution for this mountain while also working to reduce heavy metals loading in a headwater creek.  Mt. Emmons, at just over 12,000’, flanks the western edge of Crested Butte, and is part of the town’s iconic horizon. At the foot of Red Lady runs Coal Creek, a headwater of the Gunnison River that, only a few miles downstream from its origin, runs through the heart of Crested Butte.

In 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 Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan, the current owner of the mining and millsite claims and associated water treatment facilities on Mt. Emmons.

Shortly after the New Year, MEMC submitted a Notice of Intent to the Forest Service for a Tailings Geotechnical Investigation Work Plan for the defunct Keystone Mine site.  This approved proposal permits MEMC to collect necessary data from lands disturbed by the Keystone Mine and associated workings, which are on Forest Service managed land.  The Work Plan is to confirm that the condition of the Site meets current closure requirements, and evaluate the stability of the tailings dams.  In the spring, MEMC wrapped up installing Cone Penetrometer Testing equipment, for determining density and pore pressure within the tailings, and will likely conclude activities approved under the Work Plan by the end of the 2017 work season.

The Work Plan’s data collection results are important for informing what additional reclamation actions might be necessary and/or could be taken to further reduce metal loading in Coal Creek.  HCCA supports the efforts to gather this information and commends MEMC/Freeport for its initiative.

Discussions have also continued regarding the withdrawal of unpatented mining and millsite claims from mineral entry.  In March, HCCA was officially invited to the table with the MOU signatories and other essential stakeholders to discuss this objective.  One issue is the question of privatizing several hundred acres located on Forest Service managed lands.  These are disturbed acres from the old Keystone Mine where the tailings dams, waste rock piles, treatment ponds, and the water treatment plant are located.  At the March joint Town Council and County Commissioners meeting, the County Attorney stated, “we may have to go slow to go fast,” and provided this astute analysis that sums up nicely the different parties’ angles: “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.”

We are looking forward to problem solving with all stakeholders so we can secure a permanent solution that protects Red Lady, water quality, and our community while being agreeable to all parties.

Water Quality Update

At the same time, we have continued our longstanding engagement in a state water quality rulemaking hearing process pertaining to water quality in Coal Creek.  Data collected over a three-year period from 2012 to 2015 has informed MEMC/Freeport’s proposal that the Water Quality Control Commission will be considering mid-June 2017.  We are pleased that MEMC/Freeport has proposed seasonal temporary modifications for runoff that we, in conjunction with the Town of Crested Butte and Gunnison County, support.  HCCA, the Town, and County also support extending the temporary modifications until December 31, 2022 to provide time that may be needed to further investigate sources and test solutions to water quality problems from the old Keystone Mine.  Community support stems from MEMC/Freeport’s commitments to eliminating temporary modifications, resolving uncertainty, and continuing meetings with stakeholders.  As more data continues to develop, we are hopeful that temporary modifications may be eliminated prior to 2022.  HCCA is looking forward to continuing to work with MEMC/Freeport, the Town, County, Water Quality Control Division, and others to further reduce metals loading in Coal Creek and to keep us moving towards water quality standards that are protective of human and aquatic life.