Falls planners debate plans for whiskey and donkeys Rick Langenberg

Falls planners debate plans for whiskey and donkeys

Rick Langenberg

Green Mountain Falls is experiencing yet another controversy surrounding animals and a pending business operation.

In recent months, the town has gotten confronted with concerns over ducks, geese, loose-running canines and hungry bears, and even an age-old practice of feeding waterfowl around the lake. Now, the town can add donkeys to the list of possible delinquent critters.

Town planners are debating a variance request by Victor Matthews, the owner of the Black Bear Distillery, who plans to use a historic site and tradition to make special “Moon Shine” whiskey, with a Colorado flavor. The product is described as Irish-style, unpeated, single malt whiskey, boasting a nearly 50 percent alcohol, 90-proof content and 100 percent distilled barley. He is in the process of converting his former restaurant into what he believes could become as the most artisan whiskey distillery in the world. The distillery would develop an historic whiskey-making process that extends from the old-fashioned farm to the final glass and would use a stone mill.

Matthews wants to employ rescued donkeys in the grain-making process, as a way to facilitate the production and as a summer tourist draw. The donkeys would be located outside the distillery building. Initially, he would use several donkeys at one time to rotate the distillery’s stone wheel. The idea has generated mixed opinions, with some business owners giving a thumbs-up, while some residents are worried about bad smells and odors and other adverse impacts. GMF has broken many ties with its former cowboy heritage and a town that once boasted of several horse stables.

According to former Mayor Dick Bratton, who serves on the GMF Planning Commission, the one major legal obstacle Matthews must overcome deals with a current ordinance that prohibits donkeys inside the town limits. However, he discounted rumors that town planners are trying to stop the project. “That is just not true,” said Bratton.

Following a meeting last week, Matthews was instructed to get more feedback from his adjacent neighbors.

“That is what a variance process is all about,” said Bratton. He said a final decision would be made at the next planning commission meeting, slated for mid-March. Bratton said Matthews would have to consult with about four or five residential property owners near the Black Bear.

On his facebook page, Matthews maintains that the variance process is moving along well, and has posted photos of two donkeys he plans to use as grinders. He has expressed much confidence that the operation will get approved.

Matthews has gained a reputation for establishing unusual entrepreneurial operations aimed at putting GMF on the map. For a number of years, he ran the Black Bear restaurant, which gained a reputation as one of the best fine dining establishments in the Pikes Peak region, drawing many patrons from the Denver area. He also started the Paragon Culinary School and employed students as waiters and culinary/wine consultants in the Black Bear restaurant.

If everything proceeds as planned and Matthews scales local regulatory hurdles, his distillery operation could become a reality by this summer.

But the “no-donkeys in town” edict could pose a few hurdles.

Mining Company For Sale?

According to national news reports, the parent company of the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company (CC&V) may sell some its prime assets, including those in Teller County, to lower its debt.

However, CC&V officials don’t expect any changes in their daily operations and have taken a business as usual stance. CC&V is owned by the South African company, AngoGold Ashanti Ltd.

Bloomberg News recently reported that AngloGold officials are looking at selling “key operating assets,” aimed at reducing the company’s $3.1 billion in net debt by at least $1 billion.

“We have been told that everything is on the table,” said Jane Mannon, the community affairs manager of CC&V, in a Colorado Springs media report. That said, she doubts a possible new owner would shut down the current operation in Teller County.

“We are moving ahead,” said Mannon, who doesn’t expect any changes in the current operations of CC&V, which has already scaled many key regulatory hurdles. “We have all of our permits in place,” added Mannon. The community affairs manager said the most likely business scenario would involve AngloGold attempting to secure a joint ownership partnership deal, while retaining management duties. She indicated the parent company mainly wants to obtain more cash to reduce its debt.

“It is business as usual for us,” said Mannon. “We don’t see any changes.” Moreover, she doesn’t believe the sale of possible company assets will impact CC&V’s pending projects.

CC&V is one of the biggest employers in Teller County and has received a life extension permit, allowing it to continue the current Cresson operation until at least 2025. Next year, CC&V plans to start mining a 150-acre area near Poverty Gulch in Cripple Creek, located across from the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, the birthplace of the 1890s gold rush. It also recently announced plans to seriously explore the prospects of doing a major underground operation in the North Cresson area. This could become the first major underground mine in the district since the 1980s.

The thrust of CC&V’s undertakings in the last 20 years have consisted of surface mining. And for the last decade, CC&V has been a huge community and economic player in the county.

At the same time, the declining price of gold has been a big issue of concern.

However, rumors of a CC&V sale have always persisted. Nevertheless, the latest report may create some local angst, as CC&V is probably the biggest donator to community groups in the county.