Amax returns with a vengeance

  • Red Lady Bowl on Mount Emmons

    Tiffany Wardman photo
  • Then Crested Butte Mayor Mitchell in 1981

    Sue Navy/High Country Citizens' Alliance
 

Twenty years ago it was a classic David vs. Goliath battle. Helped by a drop in the worldwide molybdenum market, residents of the ski-resort town of Crested Butte, Colo., chased the world's largest mining conglomerate out of their valley.

But now, Amax is back, locals are crying "blackmail!" and the town council is building a war chest for David vs. Goliath, Part II. For months, Emmons Mining Co., a subsidiary of Cyprus-Amax, has been quietly filing for conditional water rights that would enable it to mill molybdenum in a mine above the town.

In response, Gunnison County and the towns of Mount Crested Butte and Crested Butte filed their opposition to the application. That's when the Amax lawyers got tough. Amax told the community in October to back off or, in effect, dry up. According to its letter, if elected officials continued to oppose the Amax water rights application, the company would suck up water it currently leases to local ranchers and use it to feed the mill.

"It would appear to me that it is not in the best interest of Gunnison County for agricultural lands to be dried up in order to provide a water supply for the Mount Emmons mine," wrote Cyprus-Amax attorney Brian Nazarenus. "Nevertheless, this is exactly what would occur if Climax's application for conditional water rights is denied."

"This was the first pitch in a game of very, very hard ball and a pitch aimed under our chin," commented Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten.

"Cyprus-Amax is, in very clear language, blackmailing our community," said Denis Hall, president of the High Country Citizens' Alliance, a group that 20 years ago fought Amax's threat of a toxic waste pit that would be taller than Egypt's Aswan Dam. The group has grown over the past two decades, sharpening its claws against proposed transmountain water diversions and timber sales, while building muscle and consensus among local ranchers and environmentalists.

Mine opponents say that after two decades of dealing with a more subtle scraping of the landscape, in the form of subdivisions rather than a mine, they are confronted now by a visceral assault: the gutting of the Red Lady Bowl on Mount Emmons. The mountain looks over the town and also contains the world's third-largest molybdenum deposit.

To head off a mine during the '70s, locals held dances and ski-ins. With the help of a media-savvy mayor and town councils, High Country Citizens' Alliance members received coverage in magazines and newspapers from Los Angeles to New York. They staged several "Bye-Bye, Amax!" parties and Red Lady Salvation Balls. Skiers trekked 24 miles over the mountains to Aspen to recruit help, and a squadron of Aspenites skied back in solidarity.

They also plastered bumpers across the county with "Don't Climax in Crested Butte!" stickers. Local musicians even cut a 45-rpm record of anti-Amax songs (Side B was later recorded by the late John Denver).

This time around, residents are taking their protests directly to court. The towns of Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte, and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort have agreed to kick in $25,000 each to cover $75,000 in initial legal fees. The Crested Butte Town Council is also discussing setting aside $1 million of its $5 million budget to fight the mine. The alliance has enlisted a Denver lawyer to begin the first phase of the activities in water court.

Amax must come up with a mining proposal for the court by Jan. 1, 1998. In the meantime, vintage bumper stickers reading "Don't Climax in Crested Butte" have reappeared on cars around town.

Shara Rutberg is a former HCN intern who writes in Crested Butte, Colorado.

You can ...

* Contact Vicki Shaw, co-director of High Country Citizens' Alliance, at P.O. Box 1066, Crested Butte, CO 81224 (970/349-7104), or,

* Contact Michael Rounds, Cyprus-Amax, 9100 E. Mineral Circle, Englewood, CO 80112 (303/643-5186).

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.