|On May 28, 2014, Echo Bay Exploration (EBE, a fully owned subsidiary of Kinross Gold) announced their withdrawal of the Buckhorn Mountain Exploration Project. The exploration had been proposed on almost 10,000 acres of federal, state and private lands surrounding the Kinross operating Buckhorn mine. The proposal to drill up to 965 exploration holes began in 2009 and had been undergoing development of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) when the termination announcement was made.
The Plan of Operations that Kinross submitted was to do exploration 24/7, utilizing up to 20 drill rigs simultaneously in the Okanogan Highlands above the town of Chesaw, near the US/Canada international border. Questions materialized in the agencies’ environmental review process regarding the accuracy of wetland inventories and the lack of adequate baseline water quality data, in areas where work was proposed such as on steep slopes and through a rare remnant cedar ecosystem.
OHA welcomes the termination of the massive exploration proposal. Kinross/Echo Bay is facing the economic reality that its ‘blank check’ approach for unfettered exploration over an entire large block of lands was not going to be feasible if the agencies were going to seriously analyze the impacts.
The Kinross proposal called for clearing almost all vegetation in up to three 160-acre areas and for drilling exploration holes on as close as 50-foot centers, with associated drill pads and waste dumps, but Kinross/EBE would not identify upfront specifically where the mineral exploration would take place.
The US Forest Service (FS) and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) were the lead agencies doing the environmental review, with the Washington State Department of Ecology as a supporting agency. Kinross has canceled all cost share agreements with the agencies.
Kinross stated clearly that it will not abandon efforts to explore in the area. In the future they plan to focus on specific exploration targets that would provide greater opportunity to streamline the process.
The impacts of past exploration and current mining on Buckhorn cannot be looked at in isolation. The process involves releasing contaminants that were tied up in rock into surface and groundwater. The purpose of our laws is to understand the impacts before actions are taken. It is essential that the agencies take a careful, ‘look before you leap’ approach to protect the land, water and wildlife.
OHA will continue to examine and analyze exploration proposals in North-Central WA, working to ensure that clean water is protected for future generations.