Alpine County give full support to Superfunding for Leviathan
MARKLEEVILLE – Alpine County leaders Tuesday reaffirmed their support of placing the Leviathan Mine on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund List, which would label the 250-acre property as one of the most polluted places in the country.
The Alpine County Board of Supervisors months ago had declared its support for the proposed listing; however, the board members indicated they may change their mind after a county resident’s urging.
“If the Leviathan Mine isn’t going to be designated as a Superfund site, where do we get the money to clean it up? That’s the bottom line,” Katherine Rakow, chairwoman of the board, said Tuesday at a supervisors meeting.
EPA putting the abandoned mine on the Superfund List would help the federal agency hold ARCO, a former owner of the mine, financially responsible for the cleanup. If ARCO fights EPA, then the federal government could delve into its own resources and not stall cleanup efforts. To some degree, EPA also could hold the state of California responsible because the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board owns the property.
The Leviathan Mine, located 25 miles south of Gardnerville and six miles east of Markleeville, spews a soup of sulfuric acid containing dissolved toxic metals into the nearby Leviathan Creek. Discolored and unable to support aquatic life, Leviathan Creek runs into Bryant Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of the Carson River.
EPA last year proposed to list the mine as a federal Superfund site. The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Alpine County, Douglas County and the Carson City-based Carson Water Subconservancy District, all of which are concerned about the quality of water in the Carson River, have supported the listing with written comments submitted to EPA.
However, Alpine County resident David Griffith, a geologist, had spearheaded a campaign to get his county leaders to rescind their support.
Griffith said he didn’t believe the problems there, many of which have been taken care of by Lahontan, warranted Superfund listing. And EPA has a poor record with cleaning up abandoned mines, he said.
Board members disagreed.
“We all want to reach the same goal in the end,” said Chris Gansberg, Alpine supervisor. “If we are getting federal funding, and ARCO to come and help with the funding and the cleanup, so much the better.”
The Leviathan Mine was first mined in 1863, but early mining activities did not hurt the water quality of the region.
Anaconda Co., which is now owned by ARCO, purchased it in the 1950s and used it as an open-pit sulfur mine, a type known for causing water quality problems.
What happens at the 7,800-foot-elevation mine is that runoff mixes with sulfur, becomes acidic and then dissolves various metals into the water.
Lahontan bought the mine in the 1980s, and state officials estimate the agency has addressed at least two-thirds of the problems.
Leviathan Creek was channeled with concrete where it runs directly through the site, keeping toxic water from hitting it. Concrete trenches were built through the area to catch clean water, keep it from being contaminated, and release it into the stream. Five evaporation ponds collect most of the acid mine drainage.
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