Mining firm may leave the Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – Is one of the partners that wants to develop a molybdenum mine near Crested Butte about to pull the plug? That’s the conjecture of John. A. Kaiser, an analyst who tracks high-risk Canadian securities in his review of Kobx Resources, a firm based in Vancouver, B.C.

“What they didn’t understand is that the rules for permitting in Colorado aren’t mine-friendly, and this could be dragged on for some time,” Kaiser told theCrested Butte News. “They’re now glumly aware that this is much, much more difficult.”

Kobex raised more than $28 million for the project but has already spent $8 million in rehabilitating the existing Keystone Mine and must now decide whether to bore a $14 million tunnel, called a drift, 3,600 feet into the mountain, to get a better idea of the richness of the ore deposit.

Reporting increasingly impatient stockholders, Kaiser said he’s betting Kobex will withdraw from the project.

Local opponents concurred that time is on their side – at least in the short term. “”We all believe that Kaiser is right in concluding that this is a process that could go on for 20 or 30 years, or longer,” said John Norton, special consultant to the Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area.

Still, Kaiser wasn’t willing to completely bet against the mine. It just might be a mine that Kobex may not be involved in.

“The prize is enormous,” said Kaiser, who has a firm called Kaiser BottomFish Online. “The core (ore) is worth $6 billon, and the overall value is $36 billion at today’s prices.” Even if Kobex withdraws from the project, landowner U.S. Energy Corp. may hold on, as it has much deeper pockets.

Meanwhile, the Crested Butte Town Council is laying low. The town has ordinances to protect its watershed from the impacts of mining, and it will serve as jury should an application be submitted. As such, it cannot show impartiality in advance.

The town manger, Susan Parker, pointed to efforts by the Town Council to protect the community, to see a change in legislation governing mining on federal lands. “We’ve done more in the last 18 months than this community has done (for years),” he told the newspaper.


10th Mountain Hut mixes reviews

LEADVILLE – After building dozens of backcountry ski huts in the 1980s and 1990s, the 10th Mountain Division has been lying low in recent years. Now, it is proposing to build another hut, this one near Tennessee Pass, between Leadville and Vail. Several local residents are displeased at the prospect.

Tom Weisen, a backcountry guide who lives in nearby Red Cliff, says the area is already getting crowded, with snowmobilers and dogsledders, and huts will worsen the situation. “When are they going to stop building huts?” he wants to know.

Marjorie Westermann, a long-time resident of the area with a home along Highway 24, frets about the impacts to Canada lynx and other wildlife. “Colorado isn’t as big as people think, and the wildlife are losing out.”

The 10th Mountain Division’s Ben Dodge says the proposed hut on public land would be easier to reach than Vance’s Cabin. The hut association operates 29 backcountry huts between Crested Butte and the Front Range, 14 of them on Forest Service land.


Telluride cold to mountain biking

TELLURIDE – Downhill mountain bikers are running out of options in Telluride.

With only a few legal trails in place, lift-served mountain biking is getting to be a real problem at the Telluride Ski Area.

The Forest Service, which administers the land, says the trails tend to go straight down fall lines, resulting in erosion that removes the shallow forest earth down to bare rock. When that happens, mountain bikers go elsewhere, to repeat the scarring, erosive process. Thus created, the ravines tend to enlarge even more over time.

At some ski areas, such as at Whistler and Blackcomb, operators have catered specifically to extreme mountain bikers. That will not happen at Telluride.

The reason, said Dave Riley, chief executive officer of the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., is the lack of enough money to make it worthwhile. Some of the mountain-bike parks in North America work best when they are near a large city, he went on to explain. “If you can get a high level of participation, then you come close to breaking even,” he said.

A major cost, a report inThe Telluride Watch indicates, is liability.



High towns dodge foreclosures

GRANBY – Newspapers in the mountain towns of Colorado keep looking for evidence of the tsunami of housing foreclosures hitting their communities. The real estate market has definitely slowed down, but nobody seems to find a wall of foreclosures about to crash.

A case in point is a report intheSky-Hi Daily News, which reported that Grand County in the first two months recorded 29 foreclosures, compared to 59 for all of last year.

Christina Whistmer, the Grand County treasurer, said foreclosures are “only slightly up.” The marketing director for Grand Elk, a housing project geared to the upper middle-class vacation-home buyers. The project’s Susan Penta, maintained that that the second-home market is generally healthy. “The vacation home buyer generally has the discretionary income to withstand the current storm.”

But Ross Cooney, who built three prize-winning homes in the $500,000 to $1 million category in Granby’s Grand Elk project, hoping to later find buyers, the current storm is substantial. “I really like Granby, and I like Grand Elk. It’s a beautiful spot. But boy, the economy is a disaster.

The newspaper also tells of a foreclosed property, originally priced at $800,000, which was sold at auction for $350,000.



Dems turn out in Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – By the numbers, it was an astonishing show. Teton County, which is virtually the same as Jackson Hole, has about 20,000 residents, of which about 6,600 are registered Democrats.

About a third of them – 1,200 people – turned out for the county convention. Four-fifths of them voted for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide didn’t say the last time that many people showed up for a meeting – possibly, because it hasn’t happened before. But usually, at county assemblies, only a few dozen people show up.

That Wyoming’s few votes still matter in this year’s exceedingly tight race primary between Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is itself uncommon. But clearly, Wyoming is enjoying being on the national stage.

Vail sticks to original closing date

VAIL – There’s plenty of snow in Vail, but there’s not a chance that the bull wheels will keep operating past the scheduled closing of April 11. Business owners would like it, but Chris Jarnot, the chief operating officer for Vail Mountain, said it would be asking too much of his workers. As is, office personnel will be asked to bus tables and operate ski lifts, reports theVail Daily.

“We’re going to be in a real serious challenge over the next four weeks,” said Jarnot at a town meeting.

Like many ski areas, Vail Mountain was unable to get as many foreign workers under the H-2B program. Fewer than 10 percent of the 14,000 workers employed at Vail Mountain and the four other ski areas operated by Vail Resorts are covered under the H-2B and J-1 visa programs.

– Allen Best