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Wash. reaches agreement with Buckhorn mine owner

Shannon Dininny, Associated Press

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- A mine operator in far north-central Washington has reached an agreement with the state to pay an $80,000 penalty for water quality violations in 2011 and 2012, officials announced Monday.

The amount is significantly less than the $395,000 penalty the Washington Department of Ecology assessed to Crown Resources Corp. last year. The company appealed that penalty, which was among the largest the agency ever assessed for water quality violations.

However, the Ecology Department announced the new settlement and said the company also will undertake environmental projects worth $180,000 in the area near the Buckhorn Mine. The projects will be approved by the Ecology Department and completed within the next three years, the agency said in a statement.

Crown Resources is a subsidiary of Toronto-based Kinross Gold Co., which operates the mine near Chesaw, about 120 miles northwest of Spokane.

"We believe this settlement with Crown, along with a new, more stringent permit, provides us the best path to assure that the Buckhorn Mine protects surface and groundwater from contamination while the mine continues to operate," Charlie McKinney, the Ecology Department's water quality manager in Yakima, said in the statement.

State investigators determined that water treatment systems at the mine failed to adequately capture and treat mine water during the 2011 and 2012 spring seasons. Investigators also determined that discharges of treated mine water in 2011 created slope instability and triggered a landslide that impacted a small stream below the mine.

Waste water from the mine can carry high concentrations of heavy metals, such as copper, lead and zinc.

Crown Resources also agreed to reimburse the state for the costs of dedicating one full-time and one-part employee to oversee permitting and compliance at the Buckhorn Mine over three years.

Ecology issued a five-year permit to Crown Resources in September 2007. Since operations began that year, the department has issued an additional $62,000 in penalties over issues including storm water and slope failures.

Under the settlement, a new, more stringent wastewater discharge permit is scheduled to be issued to Crown Resources on Nov. 1.

Another subsidiary of Kinross, Echo Bay Exploration, wants to explore for more gold on 10,000 acres surrounding the mine.