Background on the NPDES Permit

Discharges at the Buckhorn Mine are regulated by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) under the U.S. Clean Water Act. Every five years the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit must be renewed. The Buckhorn Mine’s permit expired on November 30, 2012. WA Department of Ecology temporarily extended the permit due to complications stemming from significant violations that were issued in July 2012, which Crown/Kinross appealed.

In June 2013, almost a year after the most recent violations were issued, Crown/Kinross and Ecology settled the $395,000 penalty for the permit violations, in order to break through the deadlock and start finding solutions to the water quality problems at the mine. The penalty settlement forgave all previous water quality violations at the mine, and agreed to a timetable for the issuance of the NPDES and other provisions. After over 30 meetings with the mining company and their consultants, a draft NPDES permit was presented by Ecology to the public for comment on October 21, 2013. Numerous comments were received, which ranged from supporting the mine for economic reasons to specific input on the draft permit to increase protection of water quality. OHA submitted over 200 pages of comments, including a 3D visualization of the capture zone, which is posted online at: OHA pushed for the  NPDES renewal to hold the company to discharging water that is as clean as streams and groundwater were before mining began (background levels). There is no reason that higher levels of contaminants should be allowed than were originally present in local streams and groundwater.

The long overdue new permit was issued on March 1, 2014. Despite verbal assurance during the penalty settlement negotiations that they would not appeal the new NPDES, Kinross submitted an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB), one day after the permit was issued. 

Nicholson Creek, upstream from the new contingency treated mine water Outfall 12, potentially to be used under emergency conditions to avoid an imminent loss of the capture zone.