RICHLAND, Wash. – The Department of Ecology has fined a gold mine in northeastern Washington for water quality violations. The mine has faced numerous penalties over the past five years since it opened.
The Buckhorn Mountain mine is required to capture and treat polluted wastewater. But for the past two years, according the Department of Ecology, the water storage area has overflowed during spring snowmelts. That’s caused a landslide and increased levels of nitrates and acidity in a nearby creek.
The mine’s parent company Kinross Gold maintains that it has a water treatment plant in place. Joye Redfield-Wilder with the Department of Ecology says the plan will not work if storage areas cannot hold enough water.
“They need to have built-in additional capacity. If we had an extreme water year, there will be more polluted water,” Redfield-Wilder says.
The Buckhorn Mountain mine is the only gold mine in Washington permitted under the state’s Metals Mining and Milling Operations Act. Water from the underground mine is captured in a storage area, which then goes through an on-site water treatment plant.
Water from gold mines can have high concentrations of copper, lead, and zinc. These heavy metals have not been released at the mine, Redfield-Wilder says.
The $395,000 assessment is the largest water quality fine for the company. For its part, though, Kinross Gold spokeswoman Deana Zakar says the landslide happened during heavy rainfall.
“During this past year we have doubled our water treatment capacity, installed more dewatering and monitoring wells, and we’ve been working quite regularly with the [Department of Ecology] to mitigate all the issues that they’ve brought up,” Zakar says.
Since 2007, the company has been issued $62,000 in fines, received six notices of violation and six administrative orders from the Department of Ecology.
The mine’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit must be renewed this fall. Redfield-Wilder says if the problems are not fixed, it could be difficult to renew the permit.
Zakar says the company will appeal the fine. Another subsidiary of Kinross Gold wants to expand mining operations to Forest Service lands in Washington’s Okanogan County.
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