In September, a water court judge postponed a trial to determine whether mining conglomerate Cyprus-Amax can create a reservoir, after the company changed its plans. Cyprus-Amax decided to downsize the mine from 10,000 to 6,000 tons per day, expand an accompanying reservoir from 1,000 to 1,600 acre-feet, and eliminate the need for one tailings pond.
A vice president at Cyprus-Amax, Jerry Denny, describes the design changes as an attempt to turn the mine into a "high-grading" facility, a process that extracts only the most lucrative molybdenum. The failed 20,000-ton-per-day project planned for the late 1970s "may not have been suitable for Crested Butte," Denny admits. But the current, smaller proposal, he says, would not cause as much environmental damage or change the community's character by attracting swarms of outsiders.
Sandy Shea with the High Country Citizens' Alliance isn't convinced: "Mining companies will say almost anything to gain a foothold in a community." Likewise, Crested Butte Mayor Victor Shepard worries about the consequences of "boom-and-bust" on the fabric of his town. He thinks even this downsized incarnation of the mine endangers the "tiny, fragile, pristine mountain community" that attracted him and continues to draw thousands of visitors each year.
With an obstacle course of permits and environmental review still ahead, Cyprus-Amax admits that the mine is at least ten years away. Crested Butte residents like Shea and Shepard are determined to fight the development for as long as it takes.