Ecology warns Buckhorn mine of water permit violation

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

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Ecology recently issued a Notice of Violation to Kinross Gold Corporation and its subsidiary Crown Resources for violating the requirements of its wastewater discharge permit.The permit requires the Chesaw-area gold mine, which is now in the reclamation phase after more than a decade of operation, to treat its wastewater before discharging the water back into the environment. The water must be treated to a level of purity based on pre-mining water quality data. The Notice of Violation (NOV) cited 113 separate violations occurring during the third quarter of 2017. The permit continues, despite an end to active mining and the start of reclamation, according to Ecology.

“The water quality violations have been an ongoing concern of OHA’s, and we are heartened to see Ecology take this important step toward holding the mine accountable,” said David Kliegman, Executive Director of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance. “The mine has unlawfully polluted water down-gradient from the site since the mine became operational nearly a decade ago. We would like to see the company do the right thing and clean the water up.”

Crown Resources President and General Manager Mark Ioli responded to the NOV and a recent press release from the OHA regarding Ecology’s actions.

“We are committed to water quality protection and working with the Washington Department of Ecology to maintain the highest environmental standards. In connection with reclamation and mine closure activities undertaken in the latter half of 2017, Crown Resources has continued to implement water management improvements, including bulkhead placement, contouring and seeding and increasing the capacity of the reverse osmosis water treatment plant. In fact, water treatment plant discharges at the Buckhorn mine have met the strict Washington Department of Ecology discharge limits for all of 2017,” said Ioli.

The Buckhorn Mine was an underground gold mine, which required dewatering the mountain to access ore deposits beneath the water table. Now that mining is finished at the site, Crown/Kinross has begun the process of allowing the mountain to refill with water, which will require years, if not decades, of active water treatment and management in order prevent further water contamination, according to the OHA.

“Active mining operations on Buckhorn have ended, but a legacy of water pollution remains. It is paramount that Kinross immediately initiate water management improvements at the mine. If water quality improvements aren’t made immediately, Ecology should fine the company for these ongoing violations,” said Kliegman.

The mining company is appealing the permit, citing unreasonable and even unattainable expectations.

“The recently issued Notice of Violation alleges certain violations of the NPDES permit issued by Ecology in 2014, which contains water quality limits for monitoring locations that are unreasonable and, in many instances, unattainable given background conditions and activities that Ecology itself authorized. This permit is currently under appeal to the Washington Court of Appeals. Despite the appeal, Crown ceaselessly works towards continued assurance of environmental improvements and protection and will continue to do so,” said Ioli.