Construction of the controversial Crown Jewel gold mine in Okanogan County has moved a step closer with the release of its final environmental impact statement.
To the relief of joint venture partners Battle Mountain Gold Inc. of Houston and Denver’s Crown Resources Inc., the study found the mine won’t adversely affect the area around Buckhorn Mountain.
But opponents of the mine aren’t so sure. The Okanogan Highlands Alliance believes the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the land where the mine would be located, has endorsed a dangerous mine plan.
Along with other environmental watchdog groups, the alliance wants the state of Washington to stop the mine by not issuing the final permits.
“We happen to believe that pure water is more precious than gold,” said alliance spokesman Dave Kliegman in a statement. “We think state and federal law does, too.”
Battle Mountain Gold spent five years on the 2,000-page impact statement. Now the company will try to secure dozens of state permits. In the best-case scenario, the company will get them in six months and break ground on the project this summer.
Battle Mountain and Crown Resources have $65 million invested in the mine and will need another $70 million to get the gold out, said Brant Hinze, project manager.
The company made substantial environmental concessions in the latest version of the mine plan, he said. Instead of a double-layer liner for the tailings pond, where processed rock would be stored, the company says it will build a triple-lined system with an advanced leak-detection system. The company also opted to move its tailings pond at the behest of mine opponents.
“We think we went the extra mile for them,” Hinze said from Olympia, where he and company officials are working with agencies on the final permits. “We also agreed to hire 80 percent of the 254 jobs we’ll create locally.”
However, the timetable to construction may be too optimistic, said Phil Crane, an environmental specialist for the state Department of Ecology.
His department would issue water-quality permits and soon expects to review Battle Mountain’s plan to control the project’s effects on a delicate water system around the mine, he said.
The ability of opponents such as the alliance to appeal the department’s decision could put the big project in court for years, Crane said. Battle Mountain’s application for permits already has been appealed by several groups, including the alliance, he said.
The area around the mine has experienced chronic water shortages. The mine will disturb the stream flows to area creeks, Crane said.
While cyanide would be used to remove gold from the rock, the cyanide would be neutralized through a patented process.