Agreement resolves Buckhorn Mine water quality penalties

Groundwater and snowmelt in settling pond last November where water is collected prior to treatment at the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw. Gary DeVon/staff photos

Groundwater and snowmelt in settling pond last November where water is collected prior to treatment at the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw. Gary DeVon/staff photos

OHA still intends to sue, Crown vows to defend itself

YAKIMA – Crown Resources Corp. has entered into an agreement with the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) to settle a penalty issued last year for water quality violations at the Buckhorn gold mine near Chesaw.

On July 16, 2012, Ecology assessed a $395,000 penalty to Crown when the operation’s water treatment systems failed to adequately capture and treat mine water during the 2011 and 2012 spring seasons, resulting in permit violations. Also in 2011, Ecology determined that discharges of treated mine water created slope instability and triggered a landslide that impacted a small stream below the mine.

As part of the settlement, Crown will pay $80,000, a portion of the penalty and will undertake environmental projects worth $180,000 in the local area of the mine. The projects will be approved by Ecology and completed within the next three years.

Water pours through the roof of a tunnel in Kinross' Buckhorn Mine.

Water pours through the roof of a tunnel in Kinross’ Buckhorn Mine.

Crown agreed to the process and schedule for issuing a new wastewater discharge permit that will contain more stringent limits for groundwater and treated wastewater discharged from the mine. A schedule of compliance and interim limits will allow Crown to bring the Buckhorn Site into compliance with the new limits in a timely manner. The new permit is scheduled to be issued on Nov. 1, 2013.

Crown also agreed to reimburse Ecology for the costs of dedicating one full-time and one part-time employee to oversee the ongoing permitting and compliance efforts at the Buckhorn Mine over a three-year period.

“We believe this settlement with Crown, along with a new, more stringent permit, provides us the best path to assure that the Buckhorn Mine protects surface and groundwater from contamination while the mine continues to operate,” said Charlie McKinney, Ecology’s water quality manager in Yakima, who oversees the permit.

According to Mark Ioli, Vice President and General Manager of Crown Resources, the company has also agreed to implement a variety of source control measures such as the installation of liner material beneath overburden piles and the like to minimize infiltration. Other measures focused on eliminating compliance concerns will also be taken like additional wells, stormwater cutoff trenches, etc., he adds.

“We are pleased that we are able to resolve the appeal and look forward to continuing to work closely with the WDOE to ensure ongoing environmental compliance at the Buckhorn mine,” said Ioli. “We are strongly committed to the protection of water quality and working with regulatory authorities to maintain the highest environmental standards at Buckhorn.”

Crown Resources state-of-the-art filtration system at the Buckhorn Mine.

Crown Resources state-of-the-art filtration system at the Buckhorn Mine.

On June 11, the Okanogan Highlands Alliance notified Crown Resources, a subsidiary of Kinross Gold Corporation, that it would be submitting a “Notice of Intent to Sue” letter to Crown. This letter is a prerequisite to the filing of a citizen suit under the Federal Clean Water Act. After Ecology’s recent announcement about the penalties, OHA, a watchdog group released a statement through their director, David Kliegman, saying the agency’s actions are a step in the right direction, but don’t go far enough.

“Ecology’s negotiated penalty agreement provides a better way to compensate for the Buckhorn Mine’s water quality violations then straight payment to the Washington State coffers,” said Kliegman. “However, the penalties only covered a portion of the mine’s permit violations and more vigorous enforcement is needed. OHA still plans to file a citizen lawsuit for permit violations, which go beyond the water quality violations that Ecology’s penalty covered.”

After they were informed of OHA’s intent to sue in June, Crown released this statement, “We are deeply disappointed that the OHA decided to pursue this unnecessary legal action, as we continue to work extensively with the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) to address water quality concerns at the Buckhorn Mine. With the WDOE’s knowledge and oversight, Crown has implemented significant on-the-ground measures aimed at ensuring ongoing permit compliance, including modifying its water treatment plant, increasing treatment capacity, adding “capture” wells, implementing a variety of source control measures, and undertaking a number of additional activities to ensure future permit compliance.”

Testing water samples in the lab at the Buckhorn Gold Mine.

Testing water samples in the lab at the Buckhorn Gold Mine.

The statement continues, “Kinross is strongly committed to the ongoing protection of water quality at Buckhorn and will continue to work with the WDOE to ensure that water quality is protected in the vicinity of the Buckhorn Mine. Crown’s operations have not resulted in harm to human health or the environment and we will vigorously defend against any lawsuit filed by the Okanogan Highlands Alliance.”

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He has a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.

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