Former Mill Superintendent For Shasta County Gold Mine Sentenced For Environmental Crimes
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kiedock Kim, age 60, resident of Biggs, California, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Troy L. Nunley to six months in prison, and ordered to pay $107,160 in restitution based on two convictions for depredation of United States property and negligent discharge of a pollutant to a water of the United States, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, Kim was the mill superintendent for the French Gulch Mine in Shasta County. As part of the mining operation, gold ore was brought from deep underground to the surface, transported to the mine mill and crushed, mixed with water to create slurry, and mixed again with foaming agents to cause the gold to separate from the remaining slurry. The gold was then removed, and the resulting waste from the mining operation — tailings, slurry, and wastewater — contained arsenic and lead.
In February 2007, a California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board inspector advised the mine operators, including Kim, that the discharge of these pollutants was prohibited without a permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The French Gulch Mine did not have a NPDES permit, and Kim repeatedly represented to the inspector that the water treatment system used at the mine was a closed circuit, meaning there were no discharges from the water treatment system, and the mine and mill operations reused the wastewater after it had been treated.
In fact, the mine was generating more liquid wastes than the treatment system could handle, and on many occasions the system was not functioning properly causing the mine operators to discharge the liquid wastes into abandoned mines, an improvised leach field, a waste rock area, or on the county road surrounding the mine. Much of the discharges were on BLM land and resulted in hazardous levels of arsenic and lead contaminating the BLM property. The BLM conducted a study and determined that the cost to remove the contaminants and restore the property is $107,160.
In addition, the mine improperly disposed of its mine waste rock, which contained high arsenic and lead concentrations, by using it to resurface the county road leading to the mine, which is on BLM land. Even though the mine was later forced to remove the waste rock, its conduct constitutes depredation of United States property.
According to the plea agreement, Kim ordered the construction of a substandard pipe system to remove contaminated liquid wastes from the mill to an abandoned mine on BLM property. On June 24, 2006, the pipe system broke, and during a period of six to eight hours, spilled up to 10 tons of mine tailings into Scorpion Gulch Creek, which eventually leads into the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area reservoir. The spilled mine tailings travelled about seven miles from the mine to the Whiskeytown reservoir, which empties into the Sacramento River.
“EPA is committed to protecting human health along with our natural resources,” said Jay M. Green, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “The defendant not only discharged potentially lethal byproducts from mining operations, he tried to hide it from investigators. Today’s sentence demonstrates that if companies and their managers skirt environmental laws, EPA and its partners will hold them accountable.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from the Bureau of Land Management; the National Park Service, and the California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.