EPA director invited to Leviathan Mine
Operating on the philosophy that “seeing is believing,” federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M. Browner will be invited to see for herself the pollution at the abandoned Leviathan Mine threatening Carson Valley’s water supply.
U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan told Douglas County commissioners Wednesday that he wanted to “jump over some layers of bureaucracy” and ask Browner to come from Washington, D.C., to see the site damage from the leaky sulfur mine that Commissioner Bernie Curtis referred to as a “moonscape.”
“The bottom line is we have to clean it up,” Bryan told commissioners.
“When the guys in the white suits with breathing packs tell you to get the hell out of there, it kind of gets to you,” said Curtis, who toured the site in 1997.
On Thursday, commissioners questioned Harold Singer, executive director of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California agency overseeing cleanup at the mine.
“A couple of scientists told us two years ago everything is under control,” said Commissioner Don Miner. “Time is up.”
According to Singer, Superfund status means the EPA has authority to order the mine’s owner to clean up the site. If the cleanup project is placed on the National Priorities List, the EPA has the authority to spend money for the cleanup if the responsible party refuses.
“It seems to me California is a little hesitant to get after ARCO,” said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen. “I don’t know who is dragging their feet. We’re feeling a heightened sense of frustration.”
n Proud of work. Singer said the California water board was proud of the work it has accomplished. He said a treatment system should be in place this weekend.
“I think it is achievable. We have a very strong chance of success because of all the research,” Singer said.
He said $6.5 million has been spent at the mine site since the early 1980s.
“Every single dollar we have spent has not been thrown away,” Singer said.
Pending Browner’s visit, commissioners decided to delay action for a month on whether to seek placement of the Leviathan Mine on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities list.
Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, asked commissioners to join the Tribe in requesting the mine be placed on the National Priorities List.
“To date, the problems associated with the hazardous releases from the Leviathan Mine have been terribly underestimated and attempts to address the releases and the site have failed. Hazardous materials continue to be released from the site in Leviathan Creek, Bryant Creek and the East Fork of the Carson River at an alarming rate,” Wallace wrote to EPA Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus in San Francisco.
” the hazardous releases impact the environment in such a manner that they present a serious biological and ecological health risk to tribal members through botanical, biological, air, soil, surface water and ground water pathways,” Wallace said. “Furthermore, these hazardous releases have had a devastating effect on the traditional natural resources and customary uses, upon which the members of the Washoe Tribe depend, in the entire area impacted by the releases.”
The Leviathan, located 25 miles south of Gardnerville and five miles east of Markleeville, was first mined in 1863. Comstock workers mined it for copper sulfate to process silver in Virginia City. The mine was a dedicated copper mine until 1869. Off-and-on mining operations ceased at the Leviathan in 1962. The site is owned by the state of California and managed by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. ARCO was the last private owner of the mine.
Leviathan Creek, which flows through the site contains levels of arsenic, copper, lead, zinc and other heavy metals in excess of state and federal water quality standards.