The closure of the mine is a planned event; it is well established in the pre-mining planning documents that the mine was only anticipated to engage in active mining operations for 7.5 years. Even so, Crown/Kinross and the Department of Ecology (Ecology) are struggling to ensure that the closure and reclamation of the mine site are conducted in a way that returns the site to its pre-mining condition.
With the gold ore at the Buckhorn Mine exhausted, the Crown/Kinross mining company has expedited reclamation. This is a financial decision that will save the company money as the employees and contractors work themselves out of a job. Surface reclamation has involved plugging the mine adits and re-contouring the ground surface to resemble pre-mining conditions. In fall 2017, the treatment facility was decommissioned and the administration buildings were removed. The shop has been retrofitted to accommodate those functions, but for a period of time, the site lacked a facility to treat the water.
Since the Buckhorn Mine began operation in 2008, water quality monitoring data in surface water (as well as groundwater) have shown that mine contaminants are continuously escaping capture. The mine is required to capture and treat contaminated water. The mine has a permit to discharge water from the treatment facility and the treated water is relatively clean. However, the increased level of mine contaminants outside the mine is coming from unpermitted sources. Crown/Kinross has not established control of mine related contaminants, and the Buckhorn Mine continues to discharge contaminants in locations where no discharge is authorized, degrading surface and groundwater and even exceeding water quality standards.
In the 2008 settlement agreement, OHA negotiated for mitigation beyond what the agencies required, which included significant onsite and offsite mitigation to streamflow and wetlands with additional long-term independent oversight.
Water surrounding the Buckhorn Mine must be left as clean as it was prior to mining
Background for 2015 discharge permit renewal: Discharges at the Buckhorn Mine are regulated by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) under the U.S. Clean Water Act. The NPDES permit must be renewed every five years. The first Buckhorn Mine NPDES permit went into effect in November 2007, there was a permit modification in June 2009, and it expired in November 2012. The WA Department of Ecology (Ecology) temporarily extended the permit due to complications stemming from significant violations for which a penalty was issued in July 2012. Crown/Kinross appealed the penalty. The second NPDES permit was issued in February 2014 and was appealed by Crown/Kinross the next day. Ecology issued a permit modification in April 2014 and again on April 1, 2015.
The penalty that Ecology issued in July 2012, was for $395,000, the largest in WA State history. Almost a year later, in June 2013, Crown/Kinross and Ecology settled the penalty for the permit violations, in order to break through the deadlock and start finding solutions to the water quality problems at the mine. The penalty settlement forgave all previous water quality violations at the mine, and agreed to a timetable for the issuance of the discharge permit and other provisions. In October 2013, after over 30 meetings with the mining company and their consultants, a draft NPDES permit was presented by Ecology to the public for comment. OHA submitted over 200 pages of comments, including a 3D visualization of the capture zone, which is posted online at: youtu.be/SPE5waXRjfU. OHA pushed for the NPDES renewal to hold the company to discharging water that is as clean as streams and groundwater were before mining began (background levels). There is no reason that higher levels of contaminants should be allowed than were originally present in local streams and groundwater.
The 15 month overdue new permit was issued on February 27, 2014. Despite verbal assurance during the penalty settlement negotiations that they would not appeal the new NPDES, Kinross submitted an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB), one day after the permit was issued.
This page links to several letters that OHA has written over the life of Buckhorn Mine to ensure that Ecology held (and continues to hold) the mining company accountable to rules and regulations for pollution discharge.
Mine Seepage Exceeds Permit Limits; Violations Mount
The 2018 Annual Coordination Meeting at the Buckhorn Mine included a presentation from Dr. Ann Maest, OHA’s consulting aqueous geochemist. Dr. Maest has worked on Buckhorn issues for 25 years and is an expert on the environmental impacts of mining, working on projects internationally. In contrast to the water quality presentation given by Crown Resources, Dr. Maest took a critical look at the previous year’s data. In her presentation, Dr. Maest concluded that, despite ongoing mitigation measures at the mine, water quality was not improving in key locations at the site. The presentation focused on the water quality impacts of two contaminants of concern: sulfate and nitrate.
Last November, Kinross submitted a plan to Ecology that purported to detail the amount of money required to satisfy the company’s environmental mitigation and cleanup requirements on Buckhorn Mountain. This plan, known as the Environmental Protection Performance Security Plan (EPPS), contains the narrative and numeric components of the mine’s environmental reclamation bond. During a careful review of the EPPS by OHA and its consultants, serious omissions and underestimations were discovered, leading OHA to the conclusion that the amount of money secured by the bond is inadequate to protect taxpayers from shouldering the environmental cleanup costs at the Buckhorn Mine, should Kinross fail to meet its obligations..
Buckhorn Mine must leave the water as clean as it was prior to mining
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.
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.