Rico mining plans scrapped

A plan to bring large-scale mining back to the San Juan Mountains has been dropped. Last week, Bolero Resources Corp. terminated an agreement to buy a massive molybdenum deposit east of Rico. The Canadian-based company had paid a nonrefundable $100,000 deposit toward the $10 million purchase price but could not get the financing together.

Last fall, when Bolero’s future was brighter, President and CEO R. Bruce Duncan commented, “We are extremely excited about the potential of this project. We believe that it may represent a significant molybdenum project in Colorado. We are also excited about the potential of the district; consequently, we have been actively staking the region.”

In an announcement last week, Bolero sang a less optimistic tune. “Bolero’s due diligence investigations could not be satisfactorily addressed to permit the entering into of a definitive agreement,” a release stated.

Hearing the news, the Town of Rico breathed a collective sigh of relief. “I think that all bad ideas should die such a death, and we would be lucky if that were the case,” Rico Town Board Member Jon Kornbluh told the Telluride Daily Planet. “Everything about it was doomed from the start.”

Although the company has retreated, an especially rich molybdenum reserve remains. The Anaconda Co., which owned the holding in the early 1980s, estimated that 273 million pounds of moly could be produced from the reserve. By contrast, the Front Range’s Henderson Mine, the largest molybdenum producer in the world, has produced 770 million pounds of molybdenum since it started operations in 1976.

Molybdenum is a greasy metal used primarily to harden steel and is often mined as a by-product of copper. Molybdenum is also noted for its resistance to corrosion and is used in everything from automotive to nuclear power plant construction. For years, the price of molybdenum stagnated, but since 2002, it has risen from $2 to $35 a pound.

Forest plan ignites snowmobilers

Engines revved up in the latest round of meetings on the San Juan Public Lands Center’s draft management plan. The local Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management took their show to Silverton in late February, and the conflict between skiers and snowmobilers took center stage.

Particularly contentious is the planned prohibition of snowmobiles on a large chunk of public lands in the vicinity of Red Mountain Pass. The plan calls for a sweeping closure to motorized uses, which would keep sleds out of a swath running from Andrews Lake to McMillan Peak and U.S. Basin near Red Mountain Pass, according to a report in theOuray County Watch.

Members of the public commented that there has been an exponential increase in use of the lands around Red Mountain Pass by snowmobilers in the last several years. Advances in snowmobile technology – including lighter chassis, more powerful engines and deeper paddles – are allowing them to go where they previously could not go.

Members of the motorized community were outraged. “My father was an outfitter up here for 20 years,” Tom Edder, of Ouray, was quoted as saying. “They told us we couldn’t keep the public off public lands. Now can you tell me how you’re going to keep the public off public lands? We teach our kids to share everything, and now you’re telling us we can’t share?”

The Watch went on to report that snowmobilers questioned tightening a recreational pursuit which was exploding. Others questioned whether the ban would actually be enforced.

Meanwhile the San Juan Public Lands Center has extended the public comment window on the draft plan. The revision will guide long-term management for 2.4 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands in Southwest Colorado and includes everything from wilderness and wild and scenic river recommendations to guidelines for public grazing and oil and gas development. Comments will now be accepted until April 11 and can be made online at: http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/forestPlan.


Flood returns to the Grand Canyon

Extremely high water returned to one of the world’s top stretches of whitewater this week. Beginning Tues., March 4, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon rose to pre-dam lev

els during a Department of Interior experiment to restore habitat to the 277-mile stretch. The floodgates were open for 60 hours with flows peaking at 41,000 cubic feet per second Wed., March 5. Releases from Glen Canyon Dam have generally ranged between 8,000 - 20,000 cfs since 1996. 

The goal of the experiment is to better understand whether higher flows can be used to rebuild eroded beaches downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. The flood is expected to move sand accumulated in the riverbed onto sandbars, which provide habitat for wildlife, serve as camping beaches for river trippers and supply sand needed to protect archaeological sites. High flows also create areas of low-velocity flow, or backwaters, used by young native fishes, particularly endangered humpback chub. Previous high-flow tests were conducted in 1996 and 2004, but the 2008 test was different.

Scientists have concluded that more sand was needed to rebuild sandbars throughout Grand Canyon National Park than was available in 1996 or 2004. Currently, sand supplies in the river are at a 10-year high, about three times greater than that available in 2004. The quantity is due to inflows from side-streams below the dam over the past 16 months.

“The water released during the test will not change the amount of water to be released over the course of the 2008 water year,” said Larry Walkoviak, of the Bureau of Reclamation. “Monthly releases later in the year will be adjusted downward to account for the water released during the experiment.”

The release went forward as planned this week, but not without controversy. Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin noted that he was given only one day to comment on the flood. In addition, he claimed that the timing of the release may have had negative impacts on habitat and called the Bureau’s rationale “unsubstantiated.”

Public gets crack at oil and gas

The public has a unique opportunity to shape the future of oil and gas development next week. On Thurs., March 13, the La Plata County Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposed revisions to the county’s Oil and Gas Code. The revisions mark the first changes to the code in more than a decade.

San Juan Citizens Alliance is encouraging citizens to attend the meeting and help shape the local landscape. “It has been more than 10 years since the county revised its oil and gas code and now the public has a very real, very small window of opportunity ... to address the public health issues associated with gas development in our community,” said Josh Joswick, the group’s oil and gas coordinator.

Joswick added that the county should be encouraged to: have industry disclose which chemicals are being used on site; require industry to remove pit liners from properties; include neighbors in well siting considerations; and extend the time for the county to process permit applications. The March 13 hearing begins at 6 p.m. in the Anasazi Room of the County Courthouse.

– Will Sands