For more than 150 years — before Nevada became a state — the Park family has owned and ranched 1,700 acres of property straddling the borders of Douglas and Alpine counties.
The River Ranch shares the scenic eastern Sierra terrain with Leviathan Mine, an open-pit sulfur mine abandoned for more than 50 years and generating acid mine drainage into the Carson River watershed.
For the Park family, mandated cleanup efforts by the mine’s owner, Atlantic Richfield Co., have failed to keep contaminants and hazardous material out of the water, rendering ranching on the property impossible.
In October, the Parks filed a civil lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield in U.S. District Court requesting a jury trial.
They are seeking remediation costs estimated at $128 million; damages for loss of water rights, property value and profits to be determined at trial and legal fees.
The lawsuit is headed to discovery and deposition in the next few weeks.
Bruce Park, and his son, David, say they’d prefer to be ranching.
“I’d rather be grazing cattle and working on the property,” David Park said.
Their lawsuit alleges that option is no longer viable, nor can the contaminated property be used for any purpose without clean up.
Bruce Park said once the contaminants leach into the soil, there is little that can be done for mitigation.
“Part of the problem is that once the heavy metals get in the ground, they can’t settle out of the soil. It’s done,” he said.
He said the most effective treatment is to remove the topsoil from the River Ranch.
“How expensive would that be?” he asked.
The lawsuit put a $128 million price tag on remediation.
“We would like the property cleaned up,” David Park said. “But that’s impractical. It would cost tens of millions of dollars.”
The River Ranch Irrigation Channel is approximately 7.8 miles downstream from the Leviathan Mine.
The lawsuit claims the contaminants discharge directly and flow through seeps and groundwater into adjacent creeks and drainages. The contaminated water eventually finds its way into Bryant Creek to the River Ranch irrigation channel where its water was seasonally diverted for irrigation.
“Any livestock pastured on the River Ranch property will drink the contaminated irrigation water and graze on metal-poisoned vegetation grown in metal-laden soil,” according to the lawsuit.
At one time, 500 Hereford grazed in a cow-calf operation, Bruce Park said.
It’s been nearly a decade since that was possible, the Parks say, due to the contamination.
“It wasn’t fit for cattle,” said Bruce Park.
The Parks gave up agriculture and sought to develop a high-end residential community with such amenities as fly-fishing, back- packing with upscale homes on the river with a smaller working ranch.
“We chose a different path, a higher and better use,” David Park said.
They discovered the property wasn’t fit for anything.
“It became evident to us during the discovery process that there were signs of contamination,” David Park said. “We actively pursued to what degree the contamination is. It’s significant and severe.”
According to the lawsuit, “the continued surface water, groundwater and soil contamination from the Leviathan Mine have rendered the property unusable for this (development) or any other purpose. The property in its current contaminated condition as a result of (acid mine drainage) pollution from the Leviathan Mine has no value or a negative value. Diamond X (plaintiffs) cannot make any beneficial use of its property absent significant remediation costs.”
The lawsuit claims ARCO has violated the Federal Clean Water Act and the Nevada Water Pollution Control Act.
The Parks anticipate the legal process will be lengthy.
“My family has been making a living in whole or in part from ranching since before Nevada became a state,” Bruce Park said. “I’m 73 years old, and we’ve been complaining about this since the mid-1950s. It’s important to the Carson River and Carson Valley.”