Mine earns EPA Superfund status
Less than two days after the Douglas County Commission asked, federal officials proposed Superfund status for Leviathan Mine.
The commission decided to support a Superfund listing Tuesday after touring the mine site, located about 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville in Alpine County, Calif. Environmental Protection Agency officials announced Thursday that the mine would be proposed for inclusion on the list of the nation’s most polluted places – status that also provides money and resources to help clean it up.
Thursday’s announcement marked the start of a 60-day public comment period on the proposal. Comments can be sent to the EPA’s San Francisco office through Dec. 22.
Douglas commissioners were pleased with the decision. They joined the Washoe Tribe in seeking the declaration.
“I think it’s the goal we’ve all been hoping for,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis. “This is possibly a solution for our problem.”
“It brings the private sector back to the table,” said Commissioner Steve Weissinger. “I support it completely.”
They were joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who had predicted the EPA would propose the listing. Bryan had previously contacted EPA Administrator Carol Browner and Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus about the mine.
“Hopefully, with this designation we can begin a process that will clean up the abandoned mine and provide the necessary safeguards to properly protect not only the environment, but the health and safety of many of Nevada’s residents,” Bryan said in a statement.
Though they have been skeptical of federal intervention in the past, the commissioners are welcoming the mix of enforcement and money Superfund status could bring. Leviathan Mine has been the subject of cleanup efforts by California officials since 1982, and results have been mixed. Detention ponds intended to store acid drainage generated by the mine have spilled over due to spring runoff, sending toxins into Leviathan and Bryant Creeks, which drain into the Carson River’s east fork.
However, officials say recent efforts to prevent and treat acid drainage are working, and most of the polluted water is intercepted and treated before it reaches Leviathan Creek.
Water quality officials say the Carson River is not threatened because the toxic runoff is thoroughly diluted by the time it reaches the river. They predicted the Superfund cleanup site will only cover the mine area, so Carson Valley probably won’t be saddled with the stigma of a Superfund label.
The mine, which now covers about 400 acres, operated intermittently from the 1860s through 1962. The toxic drainage results when water reacts with mine wastes to create sulfuric acid, which dissolves minerals. The resulting soup is fatal to aquatic life.
Comments on Superfund status can be sent to Carolyn Douglas, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (SFD-5), 75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, Calif., 94105. To receive a listing package, call Douglas at (415) 744-2343.