About OHA

OHA is a grassroots conservation organization. Since 1992 we have worked to protect the environment in the Okanogan Highlands. We have focused on Buckhorn Mountain, where we stopped an open-pit gold mine in January 2000 known as the "Crown Jewel Project." Our case before the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) resulted in their decision to reverse the Department of Ecology’s approval of water rights and water quality certification, preventing Crown Resources and Battle Mountain Gold from developing a mine at that time.

Crown Resources emerged from bankruptcy in June 2002 with an underground mine proposal for the same ore body and a mill and tailings facility adjacent to the original site in Beaver Canyon. This proposal also faced strong local opposition. In late 2003 and early 2004, Kinross Gold acquired Crown Resources and Echo Bay, which has a cyanide-leach mill and tailings pond near Republic, WA. Crown/Kinross subsequently proposed an underground mine that included; dewatering the mountain, transporting ore in 100 large trucks a day to the mill and tailings pond in Republic, and expanding the tailings facility. OHA was concerned that this proposal would harm water quality and affect senior water rights, and worked to stop this proposal.
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Over the next three years, events conspired that resulted in the development of an underground mine. First, the Bush administration lifted the moratorium on mineral patenting the Bureau of Land Management granted a patent to Crown (Kinross) privatizing 154.7 acres of federal land on Buckhorn Mountain for $770. This eliminated the federal jurisdiction of mine proposal since it was now on private land.

Second in September 2006, Washington State Department of Ecology issued a permit to construct the mine and construction began even though hearings of OHA’s appeals had not yet begun. This was due to a third complication, namely that the legislature had created a new entity called the Environmental Land Use Hearings Board (ELUHB), to fast-track large development projects in low-income areas. Under ELUHB the hearing process for OHA’s appeals would not begin until all the permits were issued, which happened over a year later in November 2007.

The patenting of the land, the building of the mine, the fast-track process, and gold approaching $1,000 per ounce contributed to the impression that more could be gained for Buckhorn Mountain, its water and environment and the community by settling the appeals. On April 17, 2008 OHA and Crown/Kinross entered into negotiations resulting in an agreement whereby the mine would proceed with additional monitoring and stream augmentation and would enable OHA to administer a rigorous verification of monitoring and mitigation and implement additional mitigation projects in the Okanogan Highlands.

 
After over five years of operation, there are some significant water quality challenges at the Buckhorn Mine with corrective action in process. OHA has done an extensive review of the mine plans and developed a comprehensive matrix of annual reporting requirements. We have also assessed the degree to which the company has satisfied these requirements for 2008 and presented it to Ecology and Kinross. OHA found the 2008 annual reporting incomplete and lacking basic foundational data needed to analyze the mine’s impacts and the accuracy of model predictions. Water quality issues have been ongoing since 2008.

This mine has extensive monitoring requirements to ensure protection of the environment, but some fundamental changes need to be made to coordinate the discussion of results and analysis. Kinross has committed to improving the completeness and comprehensiveness of their reports. OHA has made numerous suggestions to improve the annual evaluation of the mine. Ground and surface water predictions need to be reevaluated and improvements made as part of adaptive management to ensure full mitigation of the mine’s impacts.

In addition to mine monitoring, OHA also implements restoration and education programs. We have developed the Lost Lake Wetland and Wildlife Preserve to protect the flora and fauna at Lost Lake, and to provide outdoor educational and recreational opportunities for community members. Our Highland Wonders educational series has been very popular locally, highlighting the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. We invite you to explore this website to learn more about all three programs.




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