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Crested Butte doesn’t sound worried

Sidebar by Allen Best

Mining – July 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

It’s another example of a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing affecting the weather in the Rocky Mountains. This year, those Beijing butterflies – often used as a metaphor to describe causality – are part of the reason why two old Colorado towns, Leadville and Crested Butte, could become mining towns once more.

In China, of course, the economy has gone bonkers making widgets for the United States and other industrialized countries. In response, the Chinese are ramping up their own infrastructure. And there’s also a heightened demand for new pipelines in North America, which has spiked demand for more steel. This demand for steel is bumping up prices, with the consequence that last year builders in ski towns were reporting increased prices on home construction.

This year, the story has to do with molybdenum, which is used as an agent to harden steel. Moly, as it is often called, is produced in Colorado at the Henderson Mine near Berthoud Pass, and production there will be increased, now that the spot price is over $35 a pound.

The company’s original mine is at Climax. Rumors of increased production of moly are met with enthusiasm in many places, but not all.

In Crested Butte, there’s also talk. A vast store of molybdenum is located at Mt. Emmons, within a mile of the town. Crested Butte resisted mining plans through the 1970s and 1980s, and it appeared the possibility was dead. But this new all-time record price for molybdenum has U.S. Energy Corp. “aggressively” seeking financing from industry partners to develop a mine to extract molybdenum as well as other minerals.

Don Warfield, a spokeswoman for U.S. Energy, told the Crested Butte News that the only sure thing is that mining would be scaled down from what was envisioned 25 years ago. He also pointed out that mining has become much more environmentally friendly.

How serious is the talk? Two sources consulted by the Crested Butte News didn’t sound alarmed. Wendy McDermott, director of the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, said the key trigger to watch for is a formal notice called Intent to Mine.

Roger Flynn, an attorney for the Western Mining Action Project, which provides free legal services to towns such as Crested Butte, was similarly unruffled. “Mining companies say these kinds of things all the time, and until whatever company tries to re-apply to put a mine up there, this is just speculation,” he said.

Flynn also said that he didn’t expect molybdenum prices to remain this high. When they fall, he felt this new talk of mining would similarly retreat.

Just the same, Flynn and the High Country Citizens’ Alliance have been working with local government authorities in trying to get the patented mining rights for the government land near Crested Butte rescinded. They lost their first key legal battle in a federal courtroom in Denver, but have appealed that decision to the U.S. 10th Court of Appeals.