Citizens check water quality near the Buckhorn gold mine. Photo courtesy of Okanogan Highlands Alliance

Citizens check water quality near the Buckhorn gold mine. Photo courtesy of Okanogan Highlands Alliance

Objectors say suit will continue

BY ANN McCREARY

Owners of the Buckhorn gold mine near Chesaw will pay $80,000 of a $395,000 state penalty for water quality violations, and will undertake $180,000 worth of environmental projects in areas around the mine.

Under a settlement announced last week by the Washington Department of Ecology, the owner, Crown Resources Corp., also accepted terms of new wastewater discharge permit that will set more stringent limits for groundwater and treated wastewater discharged from the gold mine.

Ecology assessed the $395,000 penalty on Crown in July 2012 when the mining operation’s water treatment systems failed to adequately capture and treat mine water during the 2011 and 2012 spring seasons, violating the company’s wastewater discharge permit.

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.

The environmental projects to be undertaken by Crown as part of the settlement must be approved by Ecology and completed within the next three years.

In accepting more stringent limits on discharging groundwater and treated wastewater from the mine, Crown also agreed to a schedule to bring the mine site into compliance with the new limits. A new permit is scheduled to be issued in November.

The settlement didn’t change a local environmental group’s plans to file a citizen lawsuit against Crown, alleging violations of federal water quality laws.

“This does not change anything regarding Okanogan Highlands Alliance’s plans to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit. To the contrary, it reinforces why it is necessary,” said David Kliegman, executive director of Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA).

“Ecology’s negotiated penalty agreement provides a better way to compensate for the Buckhorn Mine’s water quality violations than straight payment to the Washington state coffers,” Kliegman said in a statement issued by OHA.

“However,” he added, “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.”

OHA contends that Crown has been in violation of a permit regulating pollution discharge from the mining operation, as well as the Clean Water Act, since shortly after the mine began operating more than five years ago. Citizen suits can bring penalties of up to $37,500 per day per violation, according to a statement from OHA.