|On June 29, Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Program Manager Kelly Susewind, signed an unprecedented deal with Crown Resources dismissing all liability for water quality violations at the Buckhorn Mine as well as any other violations the company may have committed. The agreement included an unspecified compliance schedule for future violations. Crown resources will pay a modest $80,000 in lieu of the $395,000 penalty -- the largest penalty the department had ever issued, for water quality violations. Crown will conduct some unspecified mitigation, and pay the expenses Ecology incurs for water quality monitoring efforts at the Buckhorn Mine. Meanwhile, Crown’s efforts at compliance and protection have not kept contaminants from escaping the mine.
Crown agreed to negotiate in good faith with Ecology to produce a new NPDES permit by November 2013, but there is no written commitment from Crown not to appeal the permit. Ecology will allow a multi-tiered dispute resolution process, which ensures that Crown can continue to hire teams of well-connected attorneys to out negotiate Ecology at every step of the way.
“Ecology has abdicated their responsibility to enforce the commitments that were made when the Buckhorn Mine was approved,” states David Kliegman, Executive Director of Okanogan Highlands Alliance. “This agreement goes beyond settling the penalties Ecology issued a year ago. It forgives all the violations that Ecology has not even taken enforcement action on, as well as allowing an undefined timeline for compliance of future violations. It’s essentially a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
Kliegman continues, “The mine’s July 2012 water quality penalties only covered a portion of the ongoing permit violations, and more vigorous enforcement is needed. Ecology’s penalty forgiveness reinforces the reasons why OHA plans to file a citizen lawsuit for permit violations, which go beyond the water quality violations that Ecology’s penalty covered.”
The Ecology Kinross penalty forgiveness agreement:
- Settles existing issues with the Buckhorn Mine, including the penalty
- Releases Crown of all liability from the penalty
- Crown pays $80k instead of penalty and $180k worth of mitigation to satisfy “alleged” liability.
- Ecology states that the steps Crown has taken to protect water quality were under Ecology oversight.
- Ecology accepts Crown’s additional efforts at compliance and protection.
- Ecology dismisses Crown’s permit violation for haul road turbidity in exchange for a good faith effort by Crown to develop a plan for better management.
- Ecology agreed not to consider MW-16 a monitoring well that is outside the capture zone as a point of water quality compliance. Water quality at this well would otherwise be out of compliance.
- Ecology agreed that if Crown implements the activities it has done or says it will do, that it is sufficient. They will accept a “schedule for compliance” and will set interim limits in the new permit.
- Ecology agrees that the settlement is an appropriate and reasonable response and that “Ecology will not undertake additional enforcement action against Crown for known violations that occurred before the execution of this Agreement.”
Crown retains the right to appeal any and all orders, determinations and decisions made by Ecology after this agreement.