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EPA manager seeks community input

by Christy Chalmers

The man who will be overseeing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to clean up Leviathan Mine says the agency has a few things to learn.

“We’re experienced with cleaning up hazardous materials, but we’re not experienced at living in the Carson Valley,” said project manager Kevin Mayer. “We’re going to learn from the community, and we want to let the community know that they’ve got a role in this.”

“This” is the designation of Leviathan Mine as a federal Superfund site. U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan announced Wednesday that the now-closed mine, located in Alpine County, Calif. approximately 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville, was chosen for Superfund status. The move means federal resources will be available for cleanup, but it also marks the 250-acre site as one of the most polluted in the country.

The mine operated intermittently from 1863 to 1962, producing copper sulfate and sulfur. Water that leaches through the tailings produces sulfuric acid, which in turn dissolves minerals such as aluminum, copper and arsenic. The runoff has decimated Leviathan and Bryant creeks, which drain into the east fork of the Carson River.

The EPA has scheduled an informational meeting May 24 in Gardnerville to discuss plans for cleaning the site, which could take years.

Mayer said EPA scientists will be studying all impacts as they decide on a cleanup strategy.

“We’re focusing on the activity at the mine, but we’re looking at the response of the stream system all the way down the system,” said Mayer. “We will be trying to let people understand the pieces that we have to put together to reach an eventual cleanup of the site and also to discuss the role that the community plays, helping us to identify all the pieces of the puzzle.”

News of the Superfund designation was welcomed by U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and Douglas County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen.

Bryan and the county commission had urged EPA officials to put Leviathan on the Superfund list.

“I can finally see a little light at the end of the tunnel,” Bryan said. “We are finally going to get this mess cleaned up, once and for all.”

Etchegoyhen said he hopes the designation brings meaningful progress.

“I hope this is not a make-work thing for consultants and lawyers,” he said. “I think over the decades there’s been enough finger-pointing. I hope this time there will be some work.”

Etchegoyhen said the return of trout to the affected waterways would be a good barometer for progress. He also predicted the coming summer months will show how serious mine runoff contamination is, because the Carson River will probably be lower than in the past few years.

“It will be quite noticeable in a year like this when the river will be down to 20 cubic feet per second and one cubic foot of that may be from Leviathan Creek,” said Etchegoyhen. “This year, we’ll notice it.”

Mayer said the EPA will probably hold at least one other public meeting once a cleanup strategy is determined.

“We would probably want to come back to the community and let them know what we’ve found, and possibly open it up for questions and a dialogue,” he said. “We like to have periodic updates.”

What: Informational meeting on Leviathan Mine cleanup

When: Wednesday, May 24, 7 p.m.

Where: Carson Valley Middle School, 1477 Highway 395, Gardnerville.

Information: Kevin Mayer or Vicki Rosen at the U.S. EPA, 800-231-3075.