CHESAW — Despite efforts to work closely over the last five years, the company extracting gold from the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw and an environmental group that monitors it are likely headed to court, representatives from both groups say.
David Kliegman, executive director of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, said the Buckhorn Mine has failed to establish a working system to collect groundwater, and continues to discharge pollutants that exceed water quality limits.
The state Department of Ecology has twice fined Crown Resources, and its parent company, Kinross Gold Corp., for exceeding water quality standards. Kliegman said the $395,000 penalty issued last summer — which is now under appeal — was the largest fine in Washington state history issued to a mining company.
“The problems are pretty well documented,” he said. “We just want to find a solution, but if they won’t admit to a problem, it’s pretty hard to get there.”
A lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court within 60 days unless all violations stop, he said.
But a mining official said the company has been working hard to correct any issues with water quality. Mark Ioli, general manager of the Buckhorn Mine, said the changes in water quality that the Alliance objects to have not resulted in any harm to human health or the environment. “It may be different, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmful,” he said, adding, “We’re really disappointed they decided to pursue legal action.”
Ioli said although the company is appealing Ecology’s water quality penalty to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, it has also been working to correct the issue. Ioli said the Okanogan Highlands Alliance is aware of the headway they’re making. “We’re quite surprised at the avenue they’ve taken, and we’ll vigorously defend against any lawsuit,” he said.
Ioli said since November, the company has worked with the Department of Ecology on plans to modifying its water treatment plant and expand its ability to capture water to ensure future compliance. “They are well aware of these operations,” he said. “It’s a matter of perspective, I’m afraid.
Kliegman said from his group’s perspective, the water should not only be clean enough to meet state and federal standards, but as clean as it was before mining occurred.
“Those waters up there have always been recognized as exceptionally clean,” he said. “We need that established clearly — that the water quality on the mountain will be how they found it.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512