Pros and cons of Leviathan Mine as Superfund site |

Pros and cons of Leviathan Mine as Superfund site

by David Griffith

Written comments on the proposal to list the Leviathan Mine as a Superfund site were submitted by three parties. All were highly critical of the EPA’s use of old data that reflected the site conditions prior to Lahontan’s work to reclaim it, instead of using current conditions. Evidence was also presented that showed that Leviathan Creek never had a viable fishery, contrary to the EPA’s assertion.

Whether or not the EPA decides to declare a Superfund site, nothing will change over the next two to three years while additional studies are done. The budget for most of the ongoing work was approved by the state of California in 1998, and the program is funded until 2003.

The scientific studies to date show that apart from Leviathan and Bryant Creeks, there is no evidence that the Leviathan Mine is having any significant detrimental effect on the environment, the East Fork Carson River, the Carson Valley water supply, or human health. Nevertheless, the Washoe Tribe, that owns land along Bryant Creek has the right to expect that either the creek should be returned to its previous condition or they should receive compensation. Should this be a Superfund site? Even if it is totally reclaimed it is likely that fish will continue to avoid Bryant and Leviathan Creeks.

How much is it worth spending to reclaim the Leviathan Mine? The ultimate cost of reclaiming the Leviathan Mine cannot be estimated until the required studies are completed and it is agreed how clean is clean. It is likely to be in excess of $20 million and could be much more depending on what standards are set for Leviathan and Bryant creeks.

The reasons it should be a Superfund site are:

n With the designation there is secure funding to reclaim the Leviathan Mine, although it will not happen quickly.

n Politically it is more correct. Nevada politicians from Senator Bryan down to the Douglas County Commissioners are on record favoring a Superfund site as long as it is restricted to Alpine County.

The Washoe Tribe has worked hard to get the EPA involved in the process, and presumably have great faith in the EPA’s abilities.

The reasons it should not be a Superfund site are:

n Based on the scientific studies to date, there is no justification for making the Leviathan Mine a Superfund site.

n The EPA and ARCO may not be able to agree on the solution, how much it should cost, or how clean is clean. This will delay any ultimate cleanup and may lead to litigation delaying cleanup for many years.

n With a Superfund site designation, the EPA has complete and final decision-making authority. Alpine County already has a difficult relationship with that other federal agency, the Forest Service. Douglas County, which already has some experience with Superfund, gave the EPA its blessing, with the proviso that the Superfund site be restricted to Alpine County.

n The EPA has a poor record cleaning up acid mine drainage in the western states. The EPA does not appear to have in-house expertise to deal with this type of problem.

Based on the above, the Alpine County Board of Supervisors will consider rescinding their motion supporting the Superfund site at a special meeting March 29 at 6 p.m.

If the Leviathan Mine is not designated a Superfund site, where will the money come from to clean it up or compensate the property owner on Bryant Creek? California and ARCO together have funded the work done to date. However there is another party that has been escaping its responsibilities and ought to start contributing its share.

Although the Leviathan Mine is located in California, the vast majority of the economic benefits went to Nevada. The open pit mine was designed and managed by engineers from Reno and Yerington. It was constructed by a Reno construction company. During the early phases of construction and operation there were up to 144 people working on site, with at least 134 of them being Nevada residents.

Buses brought the employees from Carson City, Minden and Gardnerville to work, and at the end of shift, after they had dumped waste into Leviathan Creek, the buses took them back home to Nevada. The foremen, engineers, and managers were all Nevada residents. Without the Leviathan Mine, the Yerington Mine would not have had its oxide copper operation because the Leviathan Mine was the only source of sulphur with costs low enough to allow the Yerington Mine to operate its oxide copper plant.

Nevada received almost all of the economic benefits of the mine and all the benefits of the cleanup, without contributing. It is time that Nevada owns up to its responsibilities and starts paying its share. A cost-effective solution could be arrived at much faster if those that were doing the finger pointing were paying part of the bill.

n David Griffith lives in Alpine County and is a mineral exploration geologist. He is a graduate of the University of British Columbia and has worked as a geologist and in mine permitting in western Canada, the western United States, and Mexico. He is a Registered Geologist in the State of California.