A preliminary Plan of Operations (PoO) has been filed by U.S. Energy with the Forest Service for mining molybdenum on Mt. Emmons. The plan was officially filed October 10 when it was hand-delivered to the district ranger and forest supervisor at the Delta office. According to Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest external affairs officer Lee Ann Loupe, the PoO is being reviewed by the agency “in accordance with established policy and procedures.”
Loupe said when the mining company filed the plan, it requested the document “be treated as privileged and confidential in their transmittal. It is our understanding that the PoO is a proprietary document of U.S. Energy and we have requested confirmation of this.” High Country Citizens’ Alliance was aware that a PoO was going to be filed before the end of the year, but they wanted to be able to look it over. According to a HCCA press release, “HCCA has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Forest Service, requesting that the plan be released on the basis of its impact on the community’s economy and clean water resources.” HCCA president Rich Karas expressed concern, but not shock, at the development, saying, “We were expecting that this plan would be filed before the end of the year, so it’s not a huge surprise. We do think that it should be released publicly as soon as possible, even if some confidential industry information needs to be redacted. The community has a right to know what U.S. Energy has planned for Red Lady.” The Forest Service review of a PoO takes at least 30 days. The agency can request further information about the plan and that can extend the review timeline. “Review of the PoO is an iterative process to ensure that the information is complete and to clarify any additional information or understandings that are necessary for the agency to formally ‘accept’ the PoO,” explained Loupe. “This is an internal review process that does not authorize any activity or grant any rights.” HCCA water director Jennifer Bock made it clear the ultimate goal of the environmental organization is to find a permanent solution to the possibility of mining on Red Lady. “It’s important for people to know that a Plan of Operations is a very preliminary first step. Next, the Forest Service will decide whether to accept the plan based on its adequacy, and later on an extensive NEPA process will begin. “In the meantime, HCCA is working with our partners to negotiate a permanent solution to keep mining off of Red Lady,” said Bock. According to Loupe, upon formal acceptance of the PoO, the Forest Service will need to identify an interdisciplinary team, project leader and timeline to begin an environmental analysis process (NEPA) for the project. The NEPA analysis process will provide for public input and involvement in evaluating the proposed activities.