Public attends Open House on Buckhorn gold exploration proposal

Members of the public speak with federal and state agency officials and check out materials relating to the EIS for Echo Bay Gold Exploration Company’s proposed gold exploration on Buckhorn Mountain. The company, part of Toronto-based Kinross Gold, want

Members of the public speak with federal and state agency officials and check out materials relating to the EIS for Echo Bay Gold Exploration Company’s proposed gold exploration on Buckhorn Mountain. The company, part of Toronto-based Kinross Gold, want

OROVILLE – Those interested in more information on aproposal to expand gold exploration on Buckhorn Mountain near Chesaw nearlyfilled the seats of the OHS Commons last week.

An Open House was held at the high school to provideinformation, answer questions and take written public comments on theEnvironmental Impact Statement being put together by the U.S. Forest Serviceand state Department of Natural Resources, lead agencies in the proposal,according to Dale Olson, Tonasket Ranger for the Okanogan-Wenatchee NationalForest.

Echo Bay Exploration, a subsidiary of Toronto-based KinrossGold, has proposed expanding mineral exploration for five years on 507 acres,within a 10,041-acre area near Kinross’ Buckhorn Mountain Gold Mine, located 18miles east of Oroville. The exploration would include construction of up to72.3 miles of new drilling roads and up to 675 new drill pad sites and drillingup to 965 exploration holes. It would also include construction of 33 acres ofwater conveyance and storage facilities, including temporary new water well onNational Forest Service lands, as well as development of up to eight acres ofland for staging equipment and materials. Four of the drill holes on NFS landswould also be converted to monitoring wells. In addition, 24-hour-aday/365-days-a-year access for up to 20 drill rigs, weather permitting, wouldbe allowed.

Ranger Olson said that while the Forest Service and DNR wereco-lead agencies on the EIS, they would be getting input from the U.S. Bureauof Land Management and the state Departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife.In addition to representatives from those agencies, Perry Huston, director ofthe Okanogan County Planning Department, a representative from the governor’soffice and 7th District Rep. Shelly Short were in attendance.  

Olson described the process involved in creating theEnvironmental Impact Statement. He said first the agencies had a comment periodwhere letters to people in the area were sent out and the issue was advertisedin the local newspapers. He said the comment period was time to gather commentsfor the EIS “to help guide us along regarding major issues with the project.”This comment period was slated to end on Jan. 3, 2011, but as Olson forecast atthe meeting, the period has been extended. According to a Dec. 17 press releasefrom the Forest Service, the comment period has been extended to Jan. 18, 2011.

“We are also looking at having a public meeting in Chesaw,”Olson said.

After the scoping period, the agencies will look at theproposed action and come up with alternatives. Then a Draft EIS will bereleased and a new comment period will begin. The comments received will beincorporated into the Final EIS, according to Olson. The agencies then willcome out with a Record of Decision.

“The federal government operate under the 1872 Minding Lawand under that statute mining is encouraged. Although there will be differentalternatives in the FEIS, a ‘no mining’ alternative will not be one of them.There will be an action that will occur,” Olson said. “We are encouragingcomments so we can address concerns.”

Fred Greef, SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act)Coordinator for the DNR, said that the EIS will have input considering thearea’s geology and natural heritage, as well as from rare plant and wildlifebiologists, an archeologist working with the state Department of Archeology andHistoric Preservation and experts on fire and recreation. The Department ofEcology will be called on for their input on water rights, storm water handlingand air quality. Fish and Wildlife will take the lead for the state onwildlife, he said. The state will also have private lands and Tribalconsultants.

“We want the adequacy and accuracy to ensure a goodproduct,” Greef said.

Although it was an open house, rather then answeringquestions from those in the seats, the participants were told to feel free tolook over the materials on the tables and on display regarding the process, aswell as to ask questions from the government agency representatives at thetables.

Harris Dunkelburger asked, “What about exploration that isalready going on up there?”

Olson said that was a separate action from the currentproposal that had previous approval and had been wrapped up in the fall.

Several people, including Sandra Vaughn, voiced concern thatthe exploration was very near their property and worried that the drillingwould affect their water. They were encouraged to submit their comments inwriting for inclusion in the document.

About the EIS, Olson said, “The Final EIS can be appealedand of course we can always be sued.”

Greef said that from the state side of things, the Final EIShas to be signed off by a state official.

Comments should be sent to Buckhorn Mine Coordinator PhilChristy, Tonasket Ranger District, 1 West Winesap, Tonasket, WA 98855. Commentscan also be sent to comments-pacificnorthwest-okanogan-tonasket@fs.fed.usor faxed to (509) 486-1922. Electronic comments must be a part of ane-mail 
message, or an attachment in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), Rich Text Format(.rtf) or Portable Document Format (.PDF). Electronic comments containingviruses will be rejected.

“We expect the Draft EIS to be completed by late fall nextyear and the Final EIS by late winter, early spring,” Christy said.

Moreinformation about the proposal is available by calling (509) 486-5137 oron-line at ProjectInformation.