Climax could reopen – in 20 years
LEADVILLE – Mining means prosperity for mining towns, but when the mines close, you’d better tighten your belt. Leadville’s belt is about as tight as it can get. It has been ever since the Climax Mine closed its portals a decade or so ago. The closure put several thousand people out of work and sliced the county’s assessed valuation to the bone. Since then, hopes of prosperity generated by recreation, tourism and property taxes fell far short of the abundance the county enjoyed when molybdenum was king. However, Climax will operate again, officials say, but maybe not for another two decades. Until then, look for recreation- and tourism to continue to support a seasonal economy until another source of wealth is found.
What would it take to bring mining once again to Bartlett Mountain and the prosperity back into Leadville homes and businesses? Officials from Phelps-Dodge Corp., owners of the Climax property, say it depends on several factors.
“Price is an issue, as well as market output, current inventory and production at other facilities,” said Ken Vaughn, manager of corporate communications at Phelps-Dodge. “The current plan calls for Climax to re-open after the Henderson ore reserves are depleted.”
The Henderson Mine, located in Clear Creek County, also is operated by Phelps-Dodge, and produces molybdenum from an underground ore body. The mine employs about 400 people, primarily from Summit, Clear Creek and Grand counties, and has an annual production of 24 million pounds of metal. Henderson molybdenum primarily is sold into the chemical industry, where it is used in the refining process, removing sulfur from petroleum products. Current estimates put the life of the Henderson Mine at around 20 years, depending on production and other factors. The mine currently is operating at 60 percent capacity.
“Right now, the market needs are being met,” said Jay Cupp, mine manager at Climax. “As the producers dwindle their reserves, my best estimate is that the mine will open again.”
Part of such an uncertain equation, Cupp added, is China’s production of large quantities of molybdenum. It’s next to impossible to predict when and with how much product the Asian nation will flood the metals market.
Molybdenum also is a by-product of the copper mining industry. It also is used in the steel-making process. Phelps-Dodge operates two copper mines in Arizona, which round-out the company’s trio of molybdenum producers. The current price per pound of molybdenum hovers around $5.90.
If and when Climax resumes operation, some rehabilitation would be necessary. New machinery and re-builds of the milling, drying and packing plants would be required.
“Climax is going through its reserves now,” Cupp said. “We can run as we speak today, but we need to modernize. There’s still a world-class ore reserve here, and it’s one of the largest.”
Currently in “care and maintenance” status, Climax employs 17 people who oversee environmental and safety programs. Future re-opening of the mine would benefit the economy and tax base of both Leadville and Lake County.
Leadville resident Linda Powell would like to see the mine open again.
“It would bring jobs back to Leadville,” she said. “Too many of us have to drive over the mountain, and maybe we could get some money for the schools back here. When you look around at the empty houses, it might help there too.”
However, there is a downside to the return of mining to Lake County, said Julie Parker of Leadville.
“I have mixed feelings about it. I grew up here, and it helped the town, but I’m a small-town girl, and when the mine re-opens, you’ll get the growth,” she said. “I’m not in favor of that.”
When the time comes to resume drilling and blasting at Climax, Vaughn said the mine and its crew will be ready to work.
“We want to continue to keep that property in a solid care and maintenance status, and keep the mine in a shape where it would remain amenable to re-opening,” he said.