Climax Mine plans still on hold
SUMMIT COUNTY – Plans to restart the Climax molybdenum Mine atop Fremont Pass are still on hold, pending economic recovery.Parent Company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., based in Arizona, announced the reopening of the mine two years ago.Both the price and demand for molybdenum dropped significantly as the global economy faltered late last year, said Fred Menzer, Climax Molybdenum’s vice president of Colorado operations. Menzer said the company can’t give an exact date for the restart, with a shaky world economy still affecting major industrial operations like the mine.Menzer, addressing the Summit County Rotary Club in Frisco Tuesday morning, said the price of molybdenum has fallen from a peak of near $30 per pound to as low $8 per pound. Currently, it’s selling for between $8 and $14, marking a slight recovery for the product. It costs about $6 per pound to produce molybdenum, he said.The slight spike in prices is being driven by demand in Europe and China, Menzer said.Molybdenum is used primarily as a steel hardener, and demand soared when China started building roads, bridges and buildings on a nearly unprecedented scale. It was that demand that spurred plans to reopen Climax.Together with the Henderson Mine (straddling Summit and Grand counties), the Climax Mine represents one of the largest and most concentrated deposits of molybdenum anywhere in the world, according to Menzer. The ore from the Colorado sites yields as much as four pounds of molybdenum per ton, about twice as much as the yield from other major molybdenum mines, he explained.The company had already spent about $200 million gearing up for a restart of the Climax Mine, with another $350 million to go. Menzer said the Climax Mine would employ about 350 people when fully operational.Altogether, the company owns about 4,600 acres of land, along with significant water rights. Most of the active mining is in Lake County, with major tailings ponds located on the Summit County side of Fremont Pass.
Climax was a significant economic factor in Summit County before it closed in 1986. Janitors working at the mine were earning up to $34,000 annually, according to one local resident who spoke at the meeting.Menzer said the plan is for all the processing of the ore to take place on site at the Climax Mine. The molybdenum would then be trucked to out-of-state processing facilities.State mining regulators said last year the reopening of the mine will eventually require a significant expansion of the tailings ponds in the Ten Mile Creek drainage, and a new water-treatment facility at the bottom of the ponds to purify the water before it flows back into the stream.In an interview last year, regulators with Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology said Freeport will need to apply for a permit amendment in the future.”They can’t do what they want to do with their current permit. The size of the tailings disposal and the open-pit waste rock disposal … are limited by the current permit … they will need to be enlarged significantly,” regulator Allen Sorenson said.The state is responsible for regulating the size of those facilities, as well as water-quality issues associated with the mining activities.Summit County will also review some of the activities associated with the reopening of the mine.”We’ve had informal conversations with them the past couple of years,” Summit County planning director Jim Curnutte said last year. “Any change to their state permit would get a review by the county.”The county would also review site plans for new water-treatment and sludge- densification facilities if they are needed, Curnutte said.More generally, the county will use its so-called 1041 powers to review any major changes at the mine as a “major industrial water project,” Curnutte said, referring to a 1974 state law giving local governments the power to review certain areas of “state interest.”Freeport officials previously characterized all additional permitting requirements as routine.