Leviathan may become "superfund" site

MINDEN - Douglas County commissioners will tour the Leviathan Mine on Oct. 19 with a federal official who will determine if the site qualifies for EPA "superfund" designation.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., arranged for the tour with Keith Takata, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's superfund division.

"This is a followup to a meeting with commissioners in August during our rural swing," Bryan said Friday. "A lot has occurred at the mine site, and the county has been urged to apply for the superfund status. Commissioners expressed some ambivalence as to if that's what the county wanted. It will be good for the board to accompany Keith to the Leviathan Mine site, so they can at least see it and know what's involved with the Superfund designation."

Bryan said he won't be able to go because of the increased activity at the Senate as Congress heads for adjournment.

The Leviathan Mine, located 25 miles south of Gardnerville, is an inactive sulfur mine now contaminating a nearby creek with acid mine drainage - a toxic stew of acid water containing dissolved metals such as iron, copper, aluminum, nickel and arsenic.

The contaminated water threatens Washoe Tribal lands and the Carson Valley's drinking supply.

"From everything I have seen and heard, something has to be done at the Leviathan," Bryan said. "We thought we would get in before it's too late in the season and there's snow on the ground cutting off our access."

Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen said he was concerned about ramifications of declaring the mine as a superfund site.

"That water ends up in Carson Valley," he said. "Does that mean every Realtor has to disclose that there is a superfund site above the Carson Valley? We all want the site cleaned up, we don't want to cause undue concern. I don't mind if they declare the Leviathan a Superfund site, as long as they do something about it."

The Alpine County, Calif., mine is now owned by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has spent the past several years trying to keep the acid mine runoff out of the water supply. This summer, Lahontan officials built a $1 million system of treated contaminated pond water to create more capacity for runoff.

The mine has been closed for 37 years and was first mined in 1863 for copper sulfate to process silver in Virginia City. The Anaconda Co. bought the mine 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 operation known for causing problems in water quality standards.

If the site is declared a superfund project, EPA coordinates cleanup efforts. California and the Washoe Tribe support the Superfund National Priorities List designation. An EPA decision is expected this month.


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