Federal agency issues patents for gold mine

CHESAW, Wash. – A federal agency has issued mining patents to a company that wants to build a gold mine in Okanogan County, a move backers hope will give the project a long-awaited boost.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke issued mining patents to Crown Resources Corp. on Dec. 21 after 12 years of review.

Crown Resources, a Denver-based gold development company, wants to dig a 1.2 million-ounce gold deposit from Buckhorn Mountain, near the Canadian border in northern Okanogan County.

“We’re really hoping the agencies will view this as an opportunity to expedite the process,” said Clyde Gillespie, project manager for Kinross Gold Corp., a Toronto-based company that is acquiring Crown Resources.

Kinross hopes to receive necessary environmental permits soon and begin construction in late 2005, he said.

The state Department of Ecology and U.S. Forest Service are preparing a revised environmental impact statement for the proposed mine.

The recent deal transfers ownership of about 154 acres of Okanogan National Forest land to Crown Resources.

Mine opponents contend the BLM actions are a giveaway of public land that allows the company to remove the gold without paying royalties.

“It means that there’s less land in the public domain, and a half a billion dollars worth of gold gets given away for no return,” said Dave Kliegman, director of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance.

“If it was oil, they’d pay royalties. If it was coal, they’d pay royalties. But if it’s gold, it’s scot-free,” he said.

Kliegman said it was not clear whether his group can appeal the BLM’s decision.

The planned underground mine replaces a proposed open-pit mine project that collapsed in 2001 after failing to secure state and federal operating permits. Crown Resources and partners had spent 11 years and an estimated $60 million trying to open the Crown Jewel Mine.

Crown Resources last year submitted a revised plan scrapping the open pit and moving ore processing off-site. Instead, ore will be trucked for processing to a Kinross mill at Republic.

The project will support about 190 jobs at the mine and mill, Gillespie said. Many of the mining jobs will be offered to current Kinross employees, he said.

A BLM news release about the mining patents stated that under the 1872 Mining Law, the BLM director is obligated to issue a mining patent if the applicant has met the requirements.

Brenda Lincoln, a BLM spokeswoman in Portland, said Crown Resources paid a total of $24,969 for the 154 acres, including public notification and land surveys.

Congress has placed a moratorium on the processing of mineral patents since 1994, she said. But Crown Resources’ 1992 patents applications weren’t subject to the moratorium.

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