CHESAW — The state has fined the company that owns and operates the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw $395,000 for repeated and continuing water-quality violations.
The major violations by Crown Resources Corp., a subsidiary of Toronto-based Kinross Gold Corp., occurred last year and this year during spring runoff, when the company failed to capture all the water from rain and snowmelt to treat, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Crown Resources disputes the findings and plans to appeal the penalty to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, said Deana Zakar, the company’s community and government relations specialist.
“This has been an ongoing issue, and we need them to step up and take this seriously,” said Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder.
The Department of Ecology says the company failed to maintain its groundwater capture zone for 94 days in the last two years. The agency’s investigation found that the violations occurred primarily because the mine does not have adequate capacity to capture all the contaminated water in the spring. Water generated in the underground mine can carry high concentrations of heavy metals, including copper, lead and zinc.
Redfield-Wilder said this year was a normal spring runoff year. “If they don’t have the capacity now, what happens in an extreme year?” she asked, adding, “It’s crucial that they are able to capture this water and then send it to the treatment plant.”
Crown Resource’s failure to collect all the spring runoff that goes into the mine and mine property means contaminated water is making its way into Gold Bowl Creek, below the mine, Ecology says. The company also discharged treated water into the same creek last spring, causing a landslide that eroded the creek bed and will cloud the stream with sediments for years to come, the agency says.
Since operations began in 2007, Ecology has issued $62,000 in penalties, six violation notices and six orders directing the company to control stormwater, resolve the capture zone issues, prevent slope failures and comply with permit limits for nitrates, sulfate, acidity, copper, lead, zinc and solids from stormwater ponds.
This violation is by far the largest and most serious, and comes at a time when the company needs to be working toward renewal of its pollution-discharge permit, Redfield-Wilder said. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is up for renewal this fall, and is required for the company to continue operating the mine, she said.
But Zakar said the landslide into Gold Bowl Creek in 2011 came during a period of “unprecedented heavy rainfall and spring runoff.”
She said Crown Resources has done numerous things to protect the water over the past year, including doubling its treatment capacity and installing more dewatering wells and monitoring wells. “Many of the issues noted by the DOE were self-reported and have been addressed,” she added.
But a watchdog group that fought permitting for the mine and now monitors water quality from wells in the area, says the hefty penalty is long overdue.
“Everybody knew these violations existed a year ago,” said David Kliegman, Okanogan Highlands Alliance’s executive director.
He said while Kinross Gold has done some things to address its water-quality issues, it has yet to resolve the biggest problem — its inability to capture all of the water from snowmelt and spring rain to be treated.
“There’s a number of things going on, but the big one is the capture zone,” he said. “There’s a lot more they need to be doing to try to deal with this problem, especially for the long term,” he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512