Since 1992, OHA has worked to maintain the integrity of water resources on Buckhorn Mountain, stopping development of an open pit gold mine in 2000 and appealing development of an underground mine proposed in 2006. Both proposals faced strong local opposition.
In 2000, OHA’s case before the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) resulted in a 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 an open pit mine. Kinross Gold acquired Crown Resources after it emerged from bankruptcy, and acquired Echo Bay, which has a cyanide-leach mill and tailings pond near Republic, WA. The underground mine proposal included dewatering the mountain, transporting ore in 100 large trucks a day to a 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. When a moratorium on mineral patenting was lifted by the federal government, allowing 155 acres at the proposed mine site to be converted from federal to private lands for $770, the mine proposal was released from federal jurisdiction. Next, the Department of Ecology issued a mine construction permit before OHA’s appeals could be heard. This premature approval occurred in part because the Environmental Land Use Hearings Board (ELUHB) was created by the legislature to fast-track large development projects in low-income areas. Under ELUHB, OHA’s hearings process began a year later in 2007, after all of the permits had been issued.
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. In 2008, OHA and Crown/Kinross negotiated 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 to implement additional mitigation projects in the Okanogan Highlands.