Public hearing will be held on Leviathan Mine | RecordCourier.com
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Public hearing will be held on Leviathan Mine

by Christy Chalmers

Kevin Mayer isn’t planning a college-style lecture with absolute truths about cleaning up Leviathan Mine when he comes to Gardnerville tonight.

He wants to have a conversation with Douglas County residents, and he’s expecting the unexpected.

“There always seems to be the potential for a twist or a turn or a point of view we hadn’t anticipated,” Mayer said. “We’re still laying out our understanding of what the problem is and still grappling with proposals for ways to deal with this. We want people involved.”

The problem is the cleanup of the newly-designated Superfund site at Leviathan Mine. Mayer is a Superfund project manager for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and he will be traveling from San Francisco to hold the first of what could be several community meetings on cleaning the mine site.

The site, in Alpine County about 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville, was named to the Superfund list May 10. While Superfund status makes resources and money available to clean up the mine, it also marks the 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, a major Carson Valley water supply.

Tonight’s meeting is a chance for Douglas residents to ask questions about how the Superfund works and possible cleanup strategies – as well as the impacts on Douglas County.

Mayer said he’s already heard from Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that is concerned about impacts on fish. He said government and related groups often get involved in Superfund discussions, but residents are welcome because they can give examples of how they use the river and potentially affected resources. Those examples can have an impact on the strategies that will be used to mitigate the mine pollution.

“I can’t tell people how much faith to put into what we’re doing. The community is really going to have to make their own judgment as to how closely they need to watch this process and get involved,” said Mayer.

Cleanup of the mine could take years. A specific strategy won’t be known until scientists determine the extent of the necessary cleanup.

California water quality control specialists and others have been trying to control the mine runoff for several years. Mayer said their work will be a foundation for the Superfund cleanup.

“We know what works sort of well and what doesn’t at all,” he said. “We’re not starting from ground zero like we have in some other projects.”

What: Informational meeting on Leviathan Mine cleanup

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

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