Mine reopening means water will be monitored very closely
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Next to the expansive Climax Mine property at the summit of Fremont Pass, 13 miles north of Leadville, lies a pristine reservoir that is a major water source for much of Eagle County.The Eagle Park Reservoir wasn’t always so beautiful, though – it was once a pond that collected highly acidic tailings from the nearby molybdenum mining and milling operation known as the Climax Mine. Molybdenum is a metal used as an addition to steels, irons and nonferrous alloys.When the mine closed in the 1980s, the future of the pond, then known as the Oxide Pond, would mean clean water that looks nothing like the green murk that once collected there.A Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology report, “Mined Land Reclamation in Colorado,” cites a 1993 agreement between Vail Associates and the Climax Molybdenum Co. to complete a tailing-removal project and reclamation of the Oxide Pond to a fresh-water reservoir.Water attorney Glenn Porzak said Vail Associates later paid a total of $6 million for the cleanup, with another $6 million paid by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Those groups make up the Eagle Park Reservoir Co., formed in 1998.The reservoir is now the major in-basin water supply for augmentation water – basically water that is used to replenish stream water – for all of those water entities, Porzak said – “it’s the motherlode.””Through their money and acquisition and the whole cleanup, it turned it from a tailings pond to a facility that meets drinking-water standards,” Porzak said. “It’s really clean water – this stuff looked like Jell-O before.”Fast forward to 2012, and the Climax Mine, now owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, is reopening its molybdenum-mining operation, except this time around, the Eagle Park Reservoir is off limits as a tailings dumping site.The Eagle Park Reservoir Co., which includes board members from Vail Resorts and the local water authorities, came to an agreement with Climax outlining a water-quality-monitoring plan that was recently reviewed and approved by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.”The tailings and water-management design for the Climax Mine is engineered so that all materials and water are maintained on the Climax Mine property and the environment is protected through use of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety-approved environmental protection facilities,” said Eric Kinneberg, spokesman for Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold.Porzak said there were initial concerns about protecting the reservoir when the Eagle Park Reservoir Co. learned the Climax Mine would reopen in 2012. Porzak said the company learned the mining operation would be expanding to more acres, as well as increasing the amount of tailings stored up at the mine site.Initially, Porzak said the permit application for the mine showed the Eagle Park Reservoir as a place where tailings could be captured before making their way to the Eagle River. The company and Porzak went to a hearing before the mine reclamation board to talk about those concerns, and the permit for Climax was denied until an environmental protection plan could be agreed upon. Porzak said there were about half a dozen different meetings throughout the next month to hammer out a deal that protects the Eagle Park Reservoir, as well as the Clinton Reservoir, which supplies water for Summit County.”If (the mining company) isn’t meeting water-quality standards, then they have to take the water out and clean it and provide us with an interim (water) supply,” Porzak said. “I’m really pleased (with the deal).”Kinneberg said the Climax Mine plans to start production this year, but he couldn’t release an exact date just yet. He said there will be more information on the scheduled start released with the Freeport-McMoRan fourth-quarter financial results announcement Thursday.Production from the Climax molybdenum mine is expected to ramp up to a rate of 20 million pounds per year during 2013, Kinneberg said, and depending on market conditions, may be increased to 30 million pounds per year. The company is currently in the process of hiring about 70 more employees, for a total of 350 employees, to work at the mine, he said.Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.
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