Arco formally agrees to join in cleanup at Superfund site
CARSON CITY -Atlantic Richfield Co. formally has agreed to a federal Environmental Protection Agency demand to help clean up the old Leviathan Mine, leaking a stew of toxic materials for decades.
Sandy Stash, Arco vice president, said Thursday that she’ll send a letter Friday to the EPA outlining Arco’s agreement on the mine, designated a Superfund environmental site last May.
Arco is a former owner of Leviathan, about 45 miles south of here in Alpine County, Calif.
Leviathan is among thousands of abandoned mines – many dating back to the Gold Rush days – that continue to pollute 15 Western states, prompting local residents to press for cleanup efforts.
Even though relieved of liability when it turned the mine over to the state of California in the 1980s, Arco will have part of the responsibility in the Superfund cleanup. Costs eventually could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
For years Leviathan has been leaking a mixture of acids and dissolved metals into creeks that drain into the Carson River, discoloring the streams and making portions of them incapable of sustaining life.
The Superfund designation lets EPA order potential responsible parties to help with the cleanup. Los Angeles-based Arco joins the current owner, California’s Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which already has spent several million dollars trying to clean up the mine.
”We will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million next year,” Stash said, adding that a pilot project will attempt to funnel some still-untreated pollution sources into the Water Quality Control Board’s existing cleanup system.
While there’s a legal argument that Leviathan is a state of California problem, Stash said Arco officials agreed months ago to help out.
”We want to do our fair share,” she added.
The Lahontan water quality board already has built evaporation ponds to catch runoff and hold sludge. But they can’t hold everything, and millions of gallons of polluted water drain into nearby creeks annually.
The Leviathan mine has leached harmful sulfuric acid into Bryant and Leviathan creeks. The two creeks ramble through national forest land and join eight miles downstream with the East Fork of the Carson River, a major northern Nevada tributary that is used for agriculture and recreation.
The mine was developed in 1863 and used into the 1870s as a source of copper sulfate. It produced sulfur as recently as the 1950s and was shut down for good in 1963.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.