Although the Henderson Mine and Mill was expected to close in 2020 due to a substantial decline in the molybdenum market, it looks like the tides are turning. Now, a notable uptick in market conditions has prompted mine officials to extend operations for another six years. While hundreds of mine workers are likely relieved they’ll have a steady paycheck until 2026 and will have time to look for other means of employment in the meantime, Clear Creek County (where the mine is located) doesn’t necessarily share these sentiments. More than likely, the county will still need to make huge budget cuts by 2021 — whether the mine is operational or not.
Molybdenum, which has been used for countless purposes over the past 200 years (including the hardening of steel), fetched as much as $46 a pound in the early 2000s. In 2016, it went for less than $5 a pound. The declining value of moly prompted Henderson to perform two rounds of layoffs, eliminating 210 positions, in 2015 and last year, they announced they would close for good in four years’ time. This left county officials in a state of panic, as the mine paid 70% of property taxes collected in Clear Creek County and accounted for more than one-third of the county’s budget. In response, the county said they planned to slash their budget by nearly 40% to compensate for the $14 million loss.
But now, molybdenum is worth more than $8 a pound and seems to be more in demand. Although Henderson discontinued operations last year, they plan to resume them and stay open for the next nine years or so. The mine now has 50 open positions, in addition to the 300-plus workers who are currently employed.
Officials say they’ll be taking steps to improve mine development activities. Currently, the mine and mill are producing 22,000 tons of ore per day and around 10 million pounds of molybdenum every year. That said, the fact that they’re resuming operations doesn’t mean the county’s situation will change.
As Clear Creek County Commissioner Randy Wheelock told Denver’s CBS affiliate, “This is giving us a few more years, but the mine will close at some point and we need to be ready for that.”
Another commissioner, Sean Wood, explained to the Denver Post, “This announcement, its not that huge a deal for us… Our tax revenues from Henderson are still going to go down and they will remain at a fairly low level,” Wood said. “We are still going to have to do pretty significant reductions in our expenses and really be aggressive at looking for other revenues in other areas.”
One of those other areas is the tourism angle. Area investors are planning to build a 160-room hotel and convention center, while some counties are planning to create a network of mountain biking trails. Since 25% of all bicycles sold by specialty stores in 2012 were mountain bikes, they’re hoping that becoming a recreation-centered attraction will help revitalize the local economy.
“We are focusing on creating additional outdoor recreation which is going to increase the quality of life and hopefully, over time, make Clear Creek a destination,” said Wood to the Post.
But for now, many locals are optimistic about the possibilities the mine might present. Officials say that it might be possible, if all ore panels are developed, to extend the life of Henderson until 2040. That may be a long-shot according to some, but others feel the potential is promising.
In a statement, the company said, “Henderson is grateful for the support and understanding from our local communities and county governments during this recent downturn. We are excited about this development and pleased with the positive outcomes it will have on our employees, the communities where we live and work, and county governments who so diligently work for this region.”