Tribe welcomes Superfund listing
Washoe Tribal Chairman Brian Wallace said Thursday he is encouraged by the federal government’s decision to put more money and the clout of the Environmental Protection Agency behind efforts to clean up the abandoned Leviathan Mine, high in the mountains of Alpine County, Calif.
Contamination from the 250-acre abandoned sulfur mine flows eastward through the Toiyabe National Forest, through Washoe Tribal land and into Nevada.
“We’ve been dealing with the impacts for decades,” Wallace said. “This is definitely a good sign. In this particular area, the impact of mining activities and drainage have significantly altered the landscape and the landscape of the Tribe in a cultural way. To be Washoe in that part of Washoe territory is hazardous and toxic.”
Wallace thanked Felicia Marcus, regional administrator for the EPA Region 9, for her efforts in getting the Leviathan listed on the Superfund. The designation also targets the mine as one of the most polluted sites in the country.
“We see this as a repudiation of the status quo,” Wallace said. “It’s been a situation that everyone has been ignoring and looking the other way for decades.
“The ongoing drainage is something we live with every day in the places we thought were the safest. The day of reckoning is coming. Eventually, it is going to be in everybody’s lap. It is in ours right now,” Wallace said.
The Tribe requested the Superfund listing several years ago.
“This is noteworthy for the whole community, not just the Tribe,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately, the Indian people had to be the tripwire for the wellness of the bioregion. The real reason we’re doing this is to protect our future and allow us to have a responsible role in raising a generation of children to match these mountains with the understanding that they are a fundamental part of the stewardship of this place they call home.”
Superfund status means the EPA will come out with remedial investigation and feasibility studies, Wallace said, a scientific effort to deal with drainage and mitigation and the longterm goal of restoration of the site.
“It’s still somewhat out of focus,” Wallace said. “There are still some very serious unknowns about the groundwater.”
Wallace said cleanup may take a generation, but the Tribe won’t give up.
“Any effort is worth pursuing when you have the health and welfare of children and elders at stake,” he said. “It may be late, but it is certainly not too late.”