Okanogan Highlands Alliance, or OHA, was formed in 1992 in response to Battle Mountain Gold Company’s proposed large-scale, open-pit, cyanide-leach gold mine that would have blasted the top off Buckhorn Mountain; dug 450 feet into the aquifer that feeds five creeks; and dumped tailings, obliterating a creek for a pick-up load of gold.
In January 2000, the project was abandoned when the Pollution Control Hearings Board reversed and vacated the water quality certification and water rights that the Washington State Department of Ecology had issued. For more info: view a Timeline Synopsis of the Open Pit Mine Proposal, or read Highlights regarding how the proposal was stopped.
Crown Resources emerged from bankruptcy in June 2002 with an underground mine proposal for the same ore body and a mill and tailings facility adjacent to the original site in Beaver Canyon. This proposal also faced strong local opposition. In late 2003 and early 2004, Kinross Gold acquired Crown Resources and Echo Bay Minerals.
In February 2004, Crown Resources, as a fully owned subsidiary of Kinross Gold Corporation, submitted an Amended Plan of Operation to the regulatory agencies. The new Plan was for an underground mine and cyanide-leach mill and tailings pond with the ore transported in 100 trips down and up Marias Creek Road and the Kettle River Road to Kinross Gold (formerly Echo Bay) Key Mill near Republic.
On December 21, 2004, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed a mineral patent transferring 154.7 acres of federal lands on Buckhorn Mountain to Crown Resources. The Mining Law of 1872 authorizes individuals or companies to locate mining claims on public lands, and to develop the mineral deposits. The Mining Law also authorizes mining claimants to purchase their claims for $5 per acre. The Bush Administration sold a half a billion dollars worth of gold, plus the surface land value for $770. Because BLM and the Forest Service had no management authority over the newly patented and now private land, mining, and reclamation, the EIS and permits for the proposed Buckhorn Mountain Mine would be handled by Ecology.
As another complication, the legislature had created a new entity called the Environmental Land Use Hearings Board (ELUHB) to fast-track large development projects in low-income areas. Ecology issued a Supplemental Environmental Impact statement (SEIS) in September 2006 and rubber-stamped a Stormwater Construction General Permit giving Kinross the go-ahead to construct a mine over a year before it certified water quality or issued water rights, even before the hearings of OHA’s appeals began. This, in OHA’s perspective, circumvented due process. Under ELUHB, the hearing process for OHA’s appeals would not begin until all the permits necessary to mine Buckhorn Mountain were issued, which happened over a year later in November 2007.
The Forest Service issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision for the haul road and other facilities for the proposed mine. For more info, view a Timeline Synopsis of the Buckhorn Mine Permitting Process.
OHA appealed many of Ecology’s permits to the Environmental Land Use Hearings Board (ELUHB). However, the patenting of the land, the building of the mine, the fast-track process, and gold approaching $1,000 per ounce ultimately contributed to the impression that more could be gained for Buckhorn Mountain, its water and environment, and the community by settling the appeals. On April 17, 2008, OHA and Crown/Kinross entered into negotiations resulting in an agreement whereby the mine would proceed with additional monitoring and mitigation and OHA would administer a rigorous verification of monitoring and mitigation and implement additional mitigation projects in the Okanogan Highlands. The Settlement provides more protection for the water on Buckhorn Mountain and its residents. To see how the monitoring process has unfolded, view a Timeline of Buckhorn Mine Monitoring, as well as the Mine Monitoring section of this website.
Echo Bay/Crown Resources/Kinross had proposed to do new exploration that would expand mining on Buckhorn Mountain, but withdrew the proposal in 2014.