State Has Major Win In Buckhorn Mine Clean Water Act Case

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge has issued a summary judgment in favor of Washington state against two gold mining companies over years of water pollution stemming from the Buckhorn Mountain gold mine in Okanogan County.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on Thursday dismissed the companies’ main defenses, writing there was no support for their claims that the state Attorney General cannot enforce all of the mine’s Clean Water Act permit.

The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson contended that Crown Resources and Kinross Gold violated the law by discharging illegal levels of pollutants into creeks in Okanogan County flowing into the Kettle River.

Now the focus shifts to how much the companies will owe for the violations. They potentially face millions of dollars in penalties for their pollution, and the judge will decide how much.

“Crown and Kinross knew even before the mine’s construction that it could release significant contamination, including arsenic and chloride, into surrounding waters, yet plowed ahead anyway,” Ferguson said. “Washington takes our water quality seriously."

Crown Resources and its parent company, Kinross Gold, own the 50-acre underground mine located approximately 100 miles northeast of Twisp. From 2008 to 2017, the companies extracted approximately $1.3 billion in gold from the mine. Ore extraction stopped in 2017, but contaminants continue to be released from the mine.

Crown Resources said it was disappointed by the ruling and reviewing its appeal options.

“The company maintains that the current discharge permit is unreasonable, based on flawed assumptions and did not properly consider the natural background levels nor previously permitted mine activities,” the company said in a news release.

“Crown has adhered to the highest environmental standards during operation and closure of the Buckhorn Mine, which has resulted in discharge water at or below drinking water standards,” the company said.