New water quality permit issued for Buckhorn gold mine

YAKIMA – An updated wastewater discharge permit issued to the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw will better protect water quality and help correct environmental problems that have challenged the mine since operations began in 2007, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Ecology issued the updated water quality permit to Crown Resources (part of Toronto-based Kinross Gold), which operates the gold mine near Chesaw, following negotiations with the company and environmental interests. The permit takes effect March 1. Under the new permit, the mining company has until the end of 2014 to comply with more protective standards. The updated permit authorizes new outfalls where the mine can discharge treated water from its wastewater treatment plant back to the environment.

Treated water from the mine can be discharged to surface waters in Gold Bowl Creek, Nicholson Creek and Marias Creek. Untreated non-industrial stormwater can be discharged to the ground, in compliance with Ecology’s water quality standards.

The permit also requires the mine to correct failures to capture and contain contaminants from the mine that resulted in a penalty in 2012.

A good faith effort towards the issuance of this permit was one of the conditions for the settlement of the $395,000 penalty issued in July 2012 to Crown Resources/Kinross for permit violations, according to the Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA), an environmental watchdog group.

“This new permit is a significant improvement over the old permit,” said David Kliegman, Executive Director of the OHA. “It will take a concerted effort on the part of Kinross to bring the gold mine into compliance with the new permit, but I have no doubt that it can be accomplished with adequate resource commitment and cooperation.”

When Crown Resources’ Kettle Falls Operations office in Republic was contacted they said they had no comment on the new permit at this time.

In a previous statement to the Gazette-Tribune regarding the OHA bringing a lawsuit against the company over their handling of water issues, the said, “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.”

Known as a federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES), the permit is required for the mine’s operation and complies with the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s water pollution control laws. Every five years the NPDES permit must be renewed. The Buckhorn Mine’s permit expired on Nov. 30, 2012. Ecology temporarily extended the permit due to complications stemming from the significant violations that were issued in July 2012, which Crown/Kinross appealed. Violations of the NPDES can bring penalties of up to $10,000 per violation per day.

OHA submitted over 200 pages of comments, including a 3D visualization of the capture zone, which is posted online at:  Youtube: Capture Zone in 3D.

“Although the mine has pumped massive amounts of groundwater from Buckhorn Mountain so they could mine, this has not been sufficient to keep mine contaminants from escaping into the environment. Now with the new permit issued, it should be universally understood that all mine contaminants must be captured and treated before they are discharged, and that no amount of inadvertent discharge from the mine is permitted,” writes the OHA in a press release, following the announcement of the new permit.

Ecology received comments from 77 individuals, groups and agencies while drafting the permit and has prepared a summary addressing those comments. The permit, fact sheet and response to comments may be viewed at the Ecology website: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/wqreports/public/f?p=110:302:0::NO:RP,302.

To obtain copies of the permit and related documents or to arrange to view copies, please call Roger Johnson at (509) 454-7658, e-mail roger.johnson@ecy.wa.gov, or write to: Cindy Huwe, Department of Ecology, Central Regional Office, 15 W. Yakima Ave., Suite 200; Yakima, WA 98902. E-mail requests to cynthia.huwe@ecy.wa.gov.

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 the Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He is single with a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.

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