Climax Mine ready to reopen

LEADVILLE – The Climax Mine, the world’s largest producer of molybdenum ore, shut down in 1981, causing the layoff of nearly 3,000 people and transforming Leadville into a bedroom community for Vail and Summit County.

Since then, the mine has briefly resumed operations three times when the price of molybdenum rose, only to shut down again when prices dropped. But when prices skyrocketed three years ago, the new owner, Phelps Dodge, did not reopen. Instead, it announced a more long-term strategy, with a probable reopening in 2009 and only then after erection of a new $250 million processing mill.

This news has produced hurrahs in Leadville, and Stephen Voynick believes they are justified. “It seems that Leadville is about to become one of the very few Western mining towns to ever get a second chance from the mining industry,” Voynick writes in the June issue of Colorado Central Magazine.

Unlike previous owners of the mine, Phelps Dodge has deeper pockets, says Voynick. This gives it more leverage. Instead, of scrambling to reopen Climax to make a quick buck off the current high prices, it doubled production at its Henderson Mine and Mill, which is located about halfway between Silverthorne and Winter Park. With Henderson making money, Phelps Dodge can now more methodically plan renewed mining at Climax that is more efficient and lucrative.

Moly prices bottomed out at $2.50 in the post 9/11 slump, soared to $38.50 last year and have since settled at $24. Most analysts predict a long-term price of $15 to $20 per pound, which is sufficient to ensure the profitability of future mining at Climax. Costs for production have ranged from $5 to $6 per pound, although perpetual water-treatment costs and end-of-mine reclamation efforts will increase that.

Where does this leave the proposal, now three decades old, to create a molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons, adjacent to Crested Butte? Voynick points out that any company that tries to mine Mt. Emmons is going to face nasty, lengthy battles in state and federal courts and in the court of public opinion. And Phelps Dodge, he notes, cares about its image.

“Even if a mining company wins the legal battle to mine Mt. Emmons, its image will surely suffer,” he says. “So why should Phelps Dodge take on a fight in Crested Butte, when Leadville will welcome it with open arms? Remember, too, that even after many decades of large-scale mining, Climax still has an estimated 470 million pounds of recoverable moly – nearly twice the amount of Mt. Emmons.”

Phelps Dodge, he notes, walked away from the Mt. Emmons project in March, leaving it with the U.S. Energy Corp. U.S. Energy is now looking for a partner to develop the deposit.


Towns mull dog hitching-posts

CRESTED BUTTE – Telluride and Crested Butte are two mountain towns still small enough that going to the post office and walking the dog can be done on the same mission. But in Crested Butte, those best-laid plans have been scuttled – at least temporarily – by a new postal policy that bans dogs from being tied up outside while their owners are inside transacting business.

To that end, Crested Butte officials are mulling the idea of instituting several dog hitching posts in the town. The idea was rejected four years ago, reports theCrested Butte News. Fears remain that the proposed hitching posts could yield dog bites.

However, a report from town officials in Telluride, which has had hitching posts for some years, maintains that the concept is tenable. There, puppy-parking is limited to 30 minutes, and dogs cannot be tied up in places, such as to cars, where they could get into vehicular traffic. How much any of this is enforced is another matter, says a private source in Telluride.

Crested Butte expects to take up the issue in July.


Steamboat hosts Rainbow Family

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Rainbow Family of Living Light each summer puts on whatThe Steamboat Pilotdescribes as the “largest gathering of hippies in North America.” But what does it take to be a member? “A belly button,” says the newspaper, after interviewing one of the advance scouts and organizers for the U.S. gathering, which will be held during the first week of July somewhere near Steamboat Springs.

An advance group from the Rainbow Family visited the area near Clark, about 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs. This is near the Zirkel Wilderness Area and also the center of the great blowdown of trees that occurred in 1997.

The Rainbow Family first met in Colorado in 1972, on private and public lands near Granby. It meets at different places each year, usually on national forests. The group last met in Colorado in 1992. Among other criteria, the gatherings require a 100-acre meadow and fresh water.

“You will see a very functional city of 60,000 people existing in harmony and peace, and showing an alternative to society,” said a scout and organizer, who goes by the name Bodhi.

The Forest Service expects closer to 20,000 people, but still has concerns. The 1992 gathering had two deaths (due to drug overdoses), three births, five sexual assaults and 43 arrests on charges ranging from child abuse to wildlife violations.

The Rainbow Family gatherings are fairly well organized, and the group is premised on minimal environmental impact and peaceful co-existence. Still, that’s a lot of people in one area of the national forest, said Mike Zopf, director of the Routt County Department of Environmental Health.

While local businesses typically enjoy a surge in business, costs of personnel from government agencies typically are also large, $750,000 in the case of the 1992 gathering in Colorado, as adjusted for inflation.


Telluride feels housing crunch

TELLURIDE – Affordable housing, of course, is a rallying cry in resort communities, butThe Telluride Watch’s Seth Cagin points out that to provide it, hard choices must be made. Telluride, he says, has made several key decisions to preserve open space at the expense of affordable housing. The most recent example was to proceed with condemnation of a large parcel at the entrance of the town, with the goal of preserving it as open space, at a cost of $29 million to $45 million. In doing so, the town rejected a compromise that would have included a large amount of affordable housing as well as some mansions.

“Today, there are only three classes of people who can truly call the immediate Telluride region home: Those who bought in early and have not yet cashed out (an aging population); those with inherited or accumulated wealth (an older population); and a small class of individuals who have managed to occupy one of our sharply limited supply of affordable housing units,” writes Cagin, the newspaper’s publisher.

“Nobody else need apply,” he adds.

He sees more service businesses, and their employees, relocating to Norwood, Ridgway and Montrose, towns that are 40 to 70 minutes away in the best of summer weather and little traffic. In effect, Telluride – like many resort communities – is exporting its growth problems.

– compiled by Allen Best