For immediate release:

Okanogan Highlands Alliance and Washington State Attorney General File Clean Water Act Lawsuits Against Mining Companies for Pollution from Mining Activities

Contact: Sarah Kliegman, Co-Executive director, 509-560-4429, sarah@okanoganhighlands.org

May 7, 2020
Spokane, WA – Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA) and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office have both filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court against Crown Resources Corporation and Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc. for water pollution violations at the Buckhorn Mine located near Chesaw, WA in north-central Washington State. The suits are related to the consistent and ongoing discharges of pollutants at the site above the levels allowed by the company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“Our community will not stand for the pollution of our waters,” states OHA’s co-Executive Director, Sarah Kliegman, PhD. “The mine has not taken sufficient actions to either investigate the fate of pollutants at the site or to clean up the pollution. This lawsuit is intended to impel the company to clean up their mess.”

Buckhorn Mountain with Field's Pond in the foreground
Buckhorn Mountain, with Field’s Pond and Nootka rose in the foreground

OHA filed a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act because of the consistent and ongoing violations at the Buckhorn Mine. OHA is represented by Paul Kampmeier of Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC. Kampmeier said, “Mine operators must be accountable for the pollution they create. They cannot be allowed to pollute state waters with impunity or to leave a legacy of water pollution after mining activities have ceased.”

OHA and the State’s filing allege that Crown/Kinross violated the Clean Water Act by failing to contain pollutants to the immediate mine area known as the capture zone and that the mine has been discharging more pollutants than permitted for the past five years. The lawsuits also contend that Crown/Kinross failed to submit reports required when certain pollutants have exceeded trigger levels as well as various plans and notifications required by the permit.

The Buckhorn Mine operated in the Okanogan Highlands of north-central Washington State from 2008-2017. There have been ongoing discharges of pollutants from the mine site since mining began. While the Washington State Department of Ecology has issued violations and penalties over the years, Crown/Kinross have not taken the actions necessary to contain their pollution within the capture zone.

The most recent NPDES permit that regulates the Buckhorn Mine was issued in 2014; it has been administratively extended, and is still in force. The permit requires that the water near the mine be returned to near-baseline conditions. These requirements have been upheld by the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board, Ferry County Superior Court, and the Washington State Court of Appeals.

OHA is a public interest organization in the Okanogan Highlands of north-central Washington State. OHA has been involved at the Buckhorn Mine through the environmental review and permitting processes. OHA has analyzed the monitoring data since the mine was built in 2008, continually advocating for environmental protection.

On March 14, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals Division III brought oral arguments in Crown vs Ecology to the Okanogan County Commissioners Hearing Room. The case, in which OHA is an intervener, began with Crown appealing the 2014 renewal of the discharge permit for the mine. After a seven-day trial-like hearing in January 2015, the Pollution Control Hearings Board, decided in favor of Ecology and OHA, affirming that the water surrounding the Buckhorn Mine must be left almost as clean as it was before mining. Crown appealed that decision to the Ferry County Superior Court where Crown also lost. Crown appealed to the Court of Appeal. Crown has asserted that the permit should be stayed (on hold) until the appeal process is exhausted. This assertion has been rejected in each stage of the appeal. While Ecology has issued Notices of Violation, the agency has not yet taken further enforcement action regarding the hundreds of violations.

Click here to listen to the recording of the arguments of this case, #351998.

Buckhorn Mine must leave the water as clean as it was prior to mining
Crown/Kinross gold mine on Buckhorn Mountain (Google Earth image)

On February 22, 2017, Ferry County Superior Court Judge Pat Monasmith denied Crown Resources/Kinross’ appeal of the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) July 30, 2015 decision, upholding the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit issued by Washington State Department of Ecology. This ruling affirms that the water surrounding the Buckhorn Mine must be left as clean as it was before the mine was developed. The Buckhorn Mine continues to discharge pollutants into the environment in violation of their waste discharge permit.

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Colorado is home to tens of thousands of abandoned mines. On August 5, 2015, people across the continent watched in disbelief as one of those mines, the Gold King, released over 3 million gallons of a mustard-colored concoction of heavy metals into the Animas River. 

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Due to the extensive violations of the Buckhorn gold mine’s Clean Water Act permit, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued an Administrative Order (AO) to Kinross Gold Corporation/Crown Resources Corporation (Crown/Kinross) on July 19, 2016. The AO requires an action plan to capture and treat contaminants emanating from the Buckhorn Mine.

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Water surrounding the Buckhorn Mine must be left as clean as it was prior to mining

On July 30, 2015, the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) denied Crown Resources/Kinross’ appeal of the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit, thereby affirming that the water surrounding the Buckhorn Mine must be left as clean as it was before the mine was developed. The Buckhorn Mine continues to discharge pollutants into the environment in violation of their waste discharge permit…

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