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Halted Mining Exploration Could Be Dire for North Central WA

A mining exploration company has decided to terminate an exploratory project in the Okanogan, and many are worried what that will mean for the economy of the region. Echo Bay Exploration, a subsidiary of Kinross gold Corporation has announced it is withdrawing from the Buckhorn Mountain exploration project.

Kinross operates the Buckhorn Gold Mine in Ferry County. The exploration company had intended to drill a number of small holes in a search for more precious metals in the region, at a time when that existing Gold Mine in the region appears ready to close.

In a letter sent to the permitting agencies of the Forest Service, BLM and the state Department of Natural resources, the company said they were pulling out of the ongoing Environmental Impact Statement process because it had become “cumbersome and expensive”, and they were also frustrated the approval process was not moving in a “timely manner”.

While company officials would not grant us an interview, one are lawmaker is speaking up on their behalf. State Republican House member Joel Kretz is very critical of the Forest Service in particular. He says the Environmental studies required to drill a series of 2 and half inch holes in the ground is excessive.

Krets: “The forest service has gotten into dotting their I’s a hundred times over everything they do. And you want to do your due diligence on everything you do, to make sure is sound and the protections are there, but at he same time you don’t want to do everything a hundred times over, and they’ve gotten into a complexity that is astounding.”

Kretz says the permitting process started five years ago. But the Forest Service says the application for this specific drilling was begun only two years ago.

Forest Service spokeswoman Shannon O’Brian says the environmental review needed to be thorough, because the application by the company called for the drilling to take place over a wide, non specific area.

O'Brian: “When you’re looking at nine thousand acres, and your trying to determine what the effects would be of doing exploration on any place in that 900 acres, and that includes wetlands, habitat for wildlife, if you don’t know where the exploration is going to take place, it’s going to take some times to analyze the effects of that.”

Now that Kinross has pulled out of the exploration process, the uncertainty of the company’s future in the Okanagan has many worried. Joel Kretz points out that the company’s Buckhorn Mine has announced it will close in 2015, at a loss of 240 jobs in an already high unemployment area:

Kretz: “You know these are jobs where the miners are making 90 thousand bucks a year, and you take that out of the economy here, that’s like four Boeings leaving Puget Sound.”

The letter from the Exploration subsidiary says will not be abandoning efforts in Washington State, but will focus on areas that can be “accessed in a more streamlined manner”.  Joel Kretz says that could mean areas other than Federal land.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.
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