Gold-mine Fight Settled; Company Agrees to Monitoring
By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times environment reporter
The decadelong battle over a proposed gold mine in north-central Washington ended today when environmental groups and the mining company reached a settlement.
The agreement clears the way for Crown Resources/Kinross to move ahead with mining about 1 million ounces of gold from Buckhorn Mountain in Okanogan County.
In return for environmentalists dropping their legal challenges to the mine, the mining company has agreed to allow third-party pollution monitoring of streams and wells in the area. And it has agreed to pipe water into creeks that might have been hurt by the mining and do additional mitigation in the area.
"The groups realized we could win more by settling," David Kliegman, executive director of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance (OHA), which led the fight against the mine, wrote in a news release.
"Instead of a very expensive legal battle, OHA and Crown will put our resources into positive improvements for our community and the environment and independent oversight of the mine impacts."
A mining company representative could not be immediately reached.
The settlements comes a month before a state hearings board was scheduled to hear legal challenges to the mine, based mostly on concerns about its impacts on water that feeds creeks in the arid, high-elevation area.
The controversy surrounding the mine dates back to its initial conception as a massive open-pit operation that would have involved blasting away much of the mountain and processing the ore on site, leaving behind a massive amount of rubble and contaminated water.
That mine, known as the Crown Jewel Mine, galvanized opposition from environmental groups. It also figured in U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's narrow victory over then-Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000 because Gorton had worked to help promote the mine.
The open-pit proposal was eventually scrapped and the mine was sold to a different company.
The new plan calls for underground mining in tunnels, rather than an open pit. The ore will be trucked to an existing mill in the town of Republic.
"We're pretty excited," said Kliegman. "When you've been working on something like this for 18 years and then you settle it, it's pretty big."