Workshop on Leviathan mine
Alpine County is holding a workshop Thursday to inform area residents about the polluted 250-acre Leviathan Mine, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed for listing on its Superfund National Priorities List.
The Leviathan Mine, located 25 miles south of Gardnerville and six miles east of Markleeville in a remote part of Alpine County, is an inactive sulfur mine now contaminating nearby Leviathan Creek with acid mine drainage – acidic water containing dissolved toxic metals such as iron, copper, aluminum, nickel and arsenic. The discolored Leviathan Creek, which can’t support aquatic life, drains into Bryant Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of the Carson River.
EPA proposed the listing in November and began a 60-day public-comment period, which ends Dec. 21.
“Basically, Alpine County officials thought it would be a good idea that the EPA and the (California) regional board explain to the public what the issues are surrounding Leviathan Mine’s proposed listing,” said Kevin Mayer, Superfund project manager for EPA. “And they thought it would be a good idea to do this before the end of the public comment period. The interested citizens would have some information on which to base any comments they would want to make about the proposed listing.”
In November, Alpine County’s board of supervisors joined the Douglas County Commission and Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California in supporting the listing. However, board member Chris Gansberg said it is important the public have a say in what happens, too.
“The more public input the better,” he said.
The Carson City-based Carson Water Subconservancy District also has agreed to support the proposed listing.
While cleanup efforts have happened at the site for more than a decade, the Superfund listing likely could bring a more focused approach, according to EPA. With the listing, EPA also could hold ARCO, a former owner of the property, and California’s Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which currently owns the site, financially responsible for the cleanup.
The Leviathan Mine was first operated in 1863. Early mining activities did not harm the water quality of the region. However, a mining operation called Anaconda, Co. purchased it in the 1950s and used it as a sulfur mine. The company excavated hundreds of acres of land, creating an open pit mine, a type of mine known for causing water quality problems.
Anaconda has since been purchased by ARCO.
Lahontan bought the mine in the 1980s, and state officials estimate it has taken care of 70 percent of the problem. Lahontan officials this past summer built a $1 million-plus system for treating a long-running problem there. EPA supports those cleanup efforts, but federal and Lahontan officials agree there are other problems and the stream will still be contaminated.
Mayer said EPA wants to use the Thursday meeting as an opportunity to obtain historical information about Leviathan Mine from the people who live in the area.
“I think what is another really critical added purpose (of the meeting) is to make contact between Alpine County, the people, EPA and the state regional board,” Mayer said. “As the EPA gets involved in this with the Superfund listing, the input from the community is something that is essential to the whole process.”
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