Saturday, February 23, 2008

Turns out there are downsides to living in gorgeous Rocky Mountain villages:
Lake County Commissioners have declared a local state of emergency for fear that this winter's above-average snowpack will melt and cause a catastrophic tidal wave.

The water is backed up in abandoned mine shafts and a 2.1-mile drainage tunnel that is partially collapsed, creating the pooling of water contaminated with heavy metals.

County officials have been nervously monitoring the rising water pressure inside the mine shafts for about two years. An explosion could inundate Leadville and contaminate the Arkansas River.
Governor Ritter has asked the Feds for help, and apparently someone's doing something. But it's really a very long term problem, as Chas points out:
...the work will have to be done forever. Forever. Until the mountains crumble or someone invents a permanent cure for water trickling down through the rocks, leaching out the cadmium, etc., and then draining through the tunnel conveniently provided in the 1940s, which drains into one fork of the Arkansas.
In related news, there have been plans afoot for a while to mine Molybdenum inside Mount Emmons, near Crested Butte, Colorado. Naturally, lots of people are upset. Kobex corporation argues their side here, but the Leadville situation must be giving their PR department a real headache.

My feelings on the issue are very mixed. My most selfish, not-in-my-backyard reaction is that the Kebler Pass area is extremely beautiful even by Colorado standards, which is saying something. Even if one believes the company's claim that the mine itself will be unobtrusive, the necessary "improvement" of the roads would be doing the area no aesthetic favours. Furthermore, as we are currently seeing, mines definitely cause major problems. The companies love to claim that technology and regulation have come so far that environmental impacts are no longer a concern; but when the potential impacts of the project happen on a geologic timescale, the burden of proof is definitely on the miners.

On the other hand, there is a solid argument that outsourcing all production of the minerals we consume to other countries, countries with weaker environmental and labour standards, is irresponsible and selfish. (Incidentally, if you think your job sucks, spend a few minutes with these photos of sulphur mining in a Javanese volcano.) Furthermore, having attempted to live for the better part of a year in western Colorado in the absence of a trust fund or real estate portfolio, I have a lot more sympathy for the concept of creating jobs. My current town of residence is still a living community largely because of three ugly, carbon-spewing, traffic-generating coal mines five miles to the east. Without this industry, the valley would have either no economy at all (granted, it doesn't have too much now); or else, lacking the deterrent of the mines' unsightliness strategically placed along the road from Aspen, it would be just another leprous Colorado service/tourist economy, real estate through the roof, no use to man or beast but only to trustafarians, "guest workers" and millionaires. Crested Butte is just such a community, and I have few tears to shed over the mine's impact on its property val..., hem, scenic virtues. I personally feel that Crested Butte would be rather improved by some truck traffic and redneck bars, and if the mine happens I hope they route the transportation right through town instead of over Kebler or Ohio passes.

And I do appreciate the glee with which the mine points out that molybdenum is used to make skis and mountain bikes. Mrs. Peculiar suggests that perhaps what Gunnison County needs are some Rossignol and Gary Fisher factories to complement the molybdenum mine. Wouldn't that be a politically incorrect manifestation of localism?

Seriously, these are tough choices, and those who advocate sustainability and distrust globalization face some difficult decisions if we stick to our guns. But let's end on a light note, and recall this classic Monty Python sketch, which really ought to be the Official Comedy Performance of Paonia, western Colorado and the New West.

"Tungsten carbide drills? What the bloody 'ell is tungsten carbide drills?"


Andrew Campbell said...

Odious: was checking my blog referrals and couldn't help but click on your blog to see what was up. Thanks for the mention. Lots more getting posted over the next few days as we recover in Ulaan Baatar.

Will definitely be checking back in frequently on O&P.

Andrew@Regal Vizsla

Peculiar said...

Peculiar here actually. Thanks for the kind words. I was priveleged to visit Mongolia in 1995, in Zavhan aimag, riding around Otgon Tenger and rafting a bit on the Ider Gol. I loved every minute of it and would go back in a hot second. It's nice to see other dispatches from the country, and I definitely enjoy your posts. By the way, I'm Stephen Bodio's stepson. Cheers, Jackson, aka Peculiar