Highlights from the
15 Years Ago
Joy greets news
by Marcia Martinek
April 13, 2006
It’s the news that Leadville and Lake County have been waiting for: the Climax Mine is slated to reopen.
Better yet, it will not take 20 years for this to happen.
Phelps Dodge, owner of the mine, issued a news release on Wednesday, April 5, that its board of directors had approved the restart of the mine contingent upon a final feasibility study and obtaining all needed permits and approvals.
The next 18 months will be spent finalizing the study that led to the board’s decision, said Ken Vaughn, Phelps Dodge spokesman. That will cost some $4 million.
Then from two to two and a half years will be spent demolishing the old plant and building a new one. Between $200 and $250 million will be spent on a new state-of-the-art concentrator and associated facilities.
“During the construction period, we plan to employ 400 to 500 workers,” Vaughn said. “Once the mine is up and running, we anticipate 300 miners and staff.”
The open pit mine could produce 20 to 30 million pounds of molybdenum annually, Phelps Dodge estimates.
The current reclamation efforts at the mine will continue and include a $20 million upgrade to the water treatment plant on site.
“Phelps Dodge made a smart move,” Steve Voynick told the Herald. Voynick, who has mined at Climax and other mines, has written extensively about the mine, including his book, “Climax.”
Voynick said the opening wasn’t to take advantage of the high prices of molybdenum as much as it was just part of the company’s long-term plan.
That plan was that the Henderson Mine, the other molybdenum mine in Colorado owned by Phelps Dodge, would run out of moly in 20 years, and then Climax would be reopened.
Because of increased production at Henderson, that 20 years was shaved to about 10 years. Now Phelps Dodge has an opportunity to build a new mill and be ready when Henderson is mined out, he said.
Carl Miller, also a former Climax miner and now on the PUC, pointed out that the Henderson Mine was built in 1976 off of the profits of Climax.
“If things had worked out, the profits from Henderson would have rebuilt Climax, and Climax would have been the dominant mine,” Miller said. But prices fell and this didn’t happen.
Howard Tritz, county assessor and another former Climax miner, said the demand for molybdenum didn’t diminish, but when the prices went up, Climax’s 1920s mill couldn’t compete.
The price of molybdenum was down to $1.88 a pound in December 2002. It hit record highs last year at $35 a pound. On Monday of this week it was $23.50 a pound.
Vaughn said that the original study on opening the mine, which was commissioned in late 2005, did look at using the existing facilities, but this was deemed impractical because of environmental and other issues.
Although it will take time, Phelps Dodge should have no trouble obtaining the permits it needs, Voynick said.
He commented on the company’s earlier attempts to start mining on Mt. Emmons near Crested Butte, a project that faced opposition from the community. The company walked away from that project, letting the property revert to its previous owners.
“That project would have been hell on wheels,” Voynick said. “But they can come to Leadville and get roses thrown at their feet.”
Here, Phelps Dodge can concentrate mining in an area already heavily impacted by past mining, he said. The company didn’t rush in to take advantage of the high moly prices.
“They appear to be in it for the long haul,” Voynick said.
Community leaders were clearly pleased with the news and had some kind words for Phelps Dodge.
“Life has gotten better,” said Ken Chlouber, former miner and now a candidate for the state legislature.
“This is great news, good for all of Lake County and the region,” Commission Chair Ken Olsen said. “This brings fresh new money into Lake County.”
“I view mining with respect,” he continued. “I think both AMAX (former mine owners) and Phelps Dodge are environmentally conscious companies.”
“It’s great news,” Miller said. “Phelps Dodge is a good corporate citizen and environmentally friendly.”
Mayor Bud Elliott called the news wonderful. “It means money will be spent every day, not just in the summer.”
Voynick said that the Phelps Dodge image is very good. The only darker spot he mentioned was back in the 1980s when the company took on and broke the unions in Arizona.
Phelps Dodge is very encouraged by the response of the community in Leadville and Lake County, Vaughn said. As time passes, the company plans to have continuing contact with the officials and citizens here to update everyone on what’s happening.