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Metallic Minerals, Forest Service face pressure from the community over exploration

Representatives of the Forest Service and Colorado Division of Water Resources also field questions and concerns about mining northeast of Mancos
Community members concerned about Metallic Minerals Corp.’s’ exploration plans in La Plata Canyon attend a meeting hosted by the Mancos Conservation District on Thursday. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)

Scott Petsel, the president of Metallic Minerals Corp, a mining company that is exploring an area northeast of Mancos for gold, silver and copper, faced a barrage of questions at a public meeting on Thursday in Mancos.

The Mancos Conservation District hosted the meeting to engage the public for the project. Nick Mustoe from the U.S. Forest Service and Corey Beaugh from the Colorado Division of Water Resources spoke and fielded questions alongside Petsel.

About 70 people attended the meeting, many of them voicing concerns about water supply and wildlife conservation.

Scott Petsel, president of Metallic Minerals Corp., presents the company’s La Plata Project at a meeting Thursday. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)

Petsel, who is a graduate of Fort Lewis College, spoke at the beginning of the meeting, introducing the plan and explaining why the company is exploring the area.

“I am here to be open and honest and as upfront as I can be about what we're doing and about what our intentions are, and to try and ease or dispel a few of the myths that I've already heard and we've seen ... about mining is imminent,” Petsel said.

Metallic Minerals Corp’s timeline for their La Plata Project. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)

Petsel stated that while mining is a goal of theirs, the company recognizes that the community does not share that goal. He also said that mining the area, 8 miles northeast of Mancos on the Montezuma-La Plata county line, would be a 20-year conversation. The company does not plan to start aright now.

“Mining is not imminent, there are no plans for mining. There’s been no economic studies to determine if mining is feasible,” Petsel said.

However, he touted the project as good for the U.S. supply chain, a weakness revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local sources of minerals could “help our national defense relative to these trade wars resulting from China and Russia,” he said.

A slide from Petsel’s presentation shows copper demand and the production shortage forecasted. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)

Copper demand is also on the rise in the face of the green energy transition, Petsel said. “Everyone wants to buy an EV.” Supporting the green energy transition requires a lot of copper to power electric vehicles and new homes, Petsel said.

“Right now, to this point, we’ve identified over 1 billion pounds of copper. That sounds like a lot, but it’s actually really small in the mining world,” Petsel stated.

There’s also been increased interest in tellurium, specifically for producing lithium-tellurium batteries that don’t catch fire like lithium batteries do, he noted.

“The best place to find tellurium in the world is between Telluride – it’s named after the metal – and our area here,” Petsel said.

Jun 19, 2024
Canadian-based mining company continues exploration of La Plata Canyon
Metallic Minerals’ 2024 drilling concepts for their La Plata Project. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)
Forest Service weighs in

Mustoe discussed Metallic Minerals’ submitted plan, where the drill locations are and what that process looks like.

The job of the Forest Service is to look at how these plans align with federal laws, especially through the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Any activities that Metallic Minerals has on private land, those long rectangular strips on the mining plans you see looking at land maps from these areas, would not be regulated by the Forest Service,” Mustoe said.

The Forest Service does have the authority to protect surface resources. The design criteria for the project might include timing restrictions, raptor protection, and having an archaeologist on site to comply with the Clean Water Act, Native Species Act, National Environment Protection Act, and the National Historical Protection Act, Mustoe said.

Colorado Division of Water Resources

Beaugh spoke about the proposed substitute water supply plan that would go into effect with the exploration. He cited the DWR’s website, explaining that these plans are “temporary approvals by the state engineer of changes of water right priority versions and augmentation plans.” The plans operate for one year before another application must be filed.

Once an application has been filed with the state engineer, notification is sent out to water rights holders in the area, and they have 35 days to provide comments, including claims of injury or “proposed stipulation to prevent injury,” Beaugh said.

“We’ve received comments, we’re looking at them, and we're working with the consultant to rectify any comments that we have the authority to rectify,” Beaugh said.

The plan stipulates that water used out of priority diversions needs to be replaced, unless the water that is diverted flows back into the east Mancos River and there are no intervening water rights, Beaugh said.

The maximum water use from May to November for the project was calculated to be 0.91 acre-feet of water by DWR. The plan Metallic Minerals submitted “determined a depletion of 0.89 acre feet per year,” indicating that some water used goes back into the groundwater.

Beaugh stated that there are ditches between the depletion point and the replacement point that would be injured, but his office is working on ways to remedy this that would be acceptable for everyone.

Metallic Minerals plan proposes pumped or potable water stations in Durango, Cortez, and Dolores as sources of replacement water. The DWR’s point of replacement would be “below the confluence of the East Mancos, right in the middle Mancos and right above the highway,” Beaugh said. The depletions would happen out of the headwaters.

Left to right: Corey Beaugh, Scott Petsel, and Nick Mustoe field questions and concerns from community members about Metallic Minerals’ exploration northeast of Mancos. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)
Community raises concerns

The majority of people in attendance had something to say about this plan, but time limited how many comments could be received. A recurring theme in the line of questioning was water.

One attendee asked whether the substitute water supply plan for this year would set a precedent for later plans. Beaugh responded that the plan can be reapplied for after one year for up to five years after the initial application. If a sixth application comes in, another process is applied in approving the plan.

Another community member had concerns about the quality of the substitute water, stating that it seemed that none of the speakers were in charge of handling that. This falls under the purview of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“The Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety was invited, I think they wanted to talk but also had lots of limitations on what they were actually going to be able to say,” said Danny Margoles, executive director of the Mancos Conservation District.

Other concerns surrounded mining and the damage it would do to the area. Petsel’s presentation did mention that some drill rigs have been flown into the area via helicopter to reduce the impact on the surrounding area.

Two drills were flown into the Montezuma side and one on the La Plata side. Three ground sites are on the La Plata side as well, totaling six sites, down from 14 drill sites last year.

An attendee asked what kind of mining the company would be looking into, and how it would impact the area. Petsel stressed that the project was still in the exploration phase, and it has not been determined whether was feasible here.

“An open pit mine would be completely unacceptable in the La Platas,” Petsel said. The porphyry that has been discovered runs vertically, so an underground mining operation could be a possibility.

Another commenter expressed disappointment that none of the speakers had mentioned traditional tribal territory in the area or any cooperation with tribal consultation.

“This industry has failed tribes miserably, and that includes water, like the southern watershed, so that can be upstream, downstream, and cumulative effect. So I really hope that tribal consultation is not being left out.”

Petsel apologized for the lack of land acknowledgement, and his work up north has taught him to appreciate the importance of that. "Tthe plan is to hit all the reservation systems and have that discussion,” he said.

Margoles said that the Mancos Conservation District could put out a list of resources and information about the project on their website for the community to reference to. He also suggested that a forum for informal comments could be opened on the website for those who did not get a chance to voice their concerns at Thursday’s meeting.