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Climax mine to reopen

Alex Miller
Special to the DailyThe Climax Mine, during its heyday in the 1950s. The mine has been closed since 1995 but will reopen soon.
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LEADVILLE – After years of sitting idle, the storied molybdenum mine high atop Fremont Pass near Leadville is slated to reopen.Phelps Dodge Corp., the Phoenix-based company that owns the mine, announced Wednesday in a press release that its board of directors had approved restarting the mine. No opening date was given and the re-start is contingent upon completion of a final feasibility study and obtaining the necessary operating permits and regulatory approvals.Climax once employed thousands of people from the Leadville area, with its heyday during the World War II era. Molybenum is an element used to strengthen steel. When competing mines around the world caused the price of the metal to drop, the Climax mine closed, with only a skeleton staff up there since 1995.According to Phelps Dodge, a pre-feasibility study shows the open-pit mine could produce 20-30 million pounds of molybdenum annually. The company also estimates it will cost $200 million to $250 million in capital costs to restart the mine with a state-of-the-art concentrator and other facilities.”Molybdenum market fundamentals remain strong,” said J. Steven Whisler, chief executive of Phelps Dodge. “We believe the Climax mine is the best non-operating molybdenum resource in the world.”The company’s Ken Vaughn told the Vail Daily a year ago that only 1 percent of the mined ore is molybdenum. The metal would leave the mill as powdered molybdenum oxide in trucks and would be taken to a “roaster” to be refined into the pure metal.Located at 11,300 feet near the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass, the Climax Mine has both open-pit and underground mining operations as well as a mill that processes and crushes the raw material.

Mining at Climax began in 1918 and ran intermittently through 1987 when the mine closed following a crash in the molybdenum market. During its peak years – especially during World War II – several thousand miners and other people worked there. It reopened briefly in 1995.Previously company officials said if and when the mine reopened, it wouldn’t employ nearly as many as it did during its peak years. “The technology now is different,” Vaughn said. “It’s not realistic that employment would reach those levels where thousands are employed. Its a different era.”The pay scales could attract workers. Laborers and truck drivers would make $11 to $15 per hour and electricians and mechanics between $15 to $20 per hour, Vaughn said.In addition to hardening steel, molybdenum is used in catalytic converters for cars, light bulbs and as an ingredient in paint and other chemicals. Phelps-Dodge also owns and operates Colorado’s only working molybdenum mine, Henderson, in Clear Creek County.The company is the largest producer of molybdenum-based chemicals in the world and employs 13,500 people.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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