Summit Rotarians visit the Climax Mine

Summit Rotary Club members during a recent tour of the Climax Molybdenum mine at Fremont Pass. PHOTO COURTESY DON SATHER.

Tour helps shed light on differences between historic and modern mining practices

By Summit Voice

The Summit County Rotary Club recently followed up on last month’s visit to the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine with a tour of the open-pit Climax molybdenum mine near Leadville.

Summit Rotary Club president Don Sather organized the tour along with fellow Rotarian Fred Menzer, vice president of Climax mine operations in Colorado. Climax is a subsidiary of global multinational Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold, the world’s largest publicly traded copper company. 

The Arizona-based company has faced criticism from some environmental groups for its mining practices in Indonesia, where a New York Times investigation showed that, between 1998 and 2004, Freeport paid almost $20 million to members of the Indonesian military for protection of its mining operations. According to the Times story, Freeport responded that it had taken legal steps to protect its mining interests and workers in the country. The story goes on to outline environmental issues at the Indonesian site. Read the story here.

The Climax Mine, by contrast, has won accolades for its ongoing reclamation efforts at the site.

Last  year Summit Rotary Club members toured the Henderson Mine near Georgetown, descending almost 3,000 feet to tour the underground molybdenum mine.

During the September visit to the Pennsylvania Mine, the Rotarians learned about the pollution stemming from acid mine drainage at the site, which kills aquatic life in Peru Creek and the Snake River for several miles downstream. The tour was organized by Blue River Watershed director Steve Swanson, who said that “reclamation and water treatment were not a consideration in the old mining days.”

Although the Climax Mine is not open currently, preparation is underway for possible future mining. Molybdenum is used in many applications, particularly as a steel alloy. Climax was in the process of hiring workers and some miners had already moved here from as far away as Kentucky and West Virginia when the world’s economy collapsed, putting the Climax plans on hold. The mine has a long boom and bust history in the area. In its early days, the mining camp up near Fremont Pass even boasted Colorado’s very first night skiing area.

“It was interesting to see the sophisticated measures and technology of today’s mining operations that treat water and mitigate ground disturbance,” Sather said, contrasting Climax operations with the problems at the Pennsylvania Mine site.


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