Nevada should accept a federal plan to add an abandoned copper mine near Yerington to the Superfund National Priority List — a move that would designate it as one of the nation’s most polluted sites and bring federal funds to cover 90 percent of the cleanup, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said.
Reid sent a letter Sunday to Gov. Brian Sandoval and Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, saying he supported the agency’s intention to add the Anaconda mine to the list.
Nevada has opposed past EPA proposals to list the site, fearing a stigma that might affect property values and any precedent that could be set by federal intervention in the mining-friendly state — the world’s sixth-biggest producer of gold.
“The state of Nevada has wrongly resisted federal help to clean up the mine over many years and administrations,” the Democratic senator wrote after the agency’s latest proposal last week. “I know ?this designation will bring attention to the community, but we should stop acting as if denying the designation means the site poses less of a threat to the health and economy of Yerington.”
The EPA has given Nevada until Jan. 29 to formally respond.
Sandoval said Monday that there’s been measurable environmental progress and economic investment at the site in the past few years. He noted that local officials and agriculture leaders in the area had been contacting his office with concerns about the EPA’s proposal.
“The state must weigh the financial responsibility of managing the site exclusively and the risk associated with labeling the community as a Superfund site indefinitely with any potential health concerns that might exist,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “I have directed the Division of Environmental Protection under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to coordinate with local leaders to formally assess the proposal and develop a plan to either work with the EPA or come up with a state-based solution.”
Nevada regulators estimated earlier this year that it would cost $30.4 million to address only what the EPA considers the most immediate health and safety concerns posed by the World War II-era mine. They said the state has been unsuccessful in obtaining financial assistance from those responsible for the damage.
“Without an identifiable private source of funding, the only mechanism to make federal funding available is to add the site” to the federal priority list, Blumenfeld said.
Previous owners left behind 90 million gallons of acidic solution that continues to threaten the groundwater, he said.
The developments came after residents filed a class-action lawsuit in 2011 accusing Atlantic Richfield Co. and parent company BP America Inc. of intentionally and negligently concealing the extent of uranium, arsenic and other pollutants leaking into drinking water wells from the mine. The case was settled for $19.5 million.
The mine covers 6 square miles owned partly by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Atlantic Richfield acquired the property in 1977 from Anaconda Copper, which built the mine in 1941.
Atlantic Richfield has paid for other work on the site, BP spokesman Jason Ryan said.
Anaconda produced 1.7 billion pounds of copper from 1952 to 1978 at the mine in Mason Valley, an irrigated agricultural oasis in the otherwise largely barren high desert.
The EPA determined uranium was produced as a byproduct of processing the copper, and that the radioactive waste was initially dumped into dirt-bottomed ponds that leaked into the groundwater.
Federal studies showed 79 percent of wells tested north of the mine had dangerous levels of uranium, arsenic or both that made the water unsafe to drink, including one a half-mile away with levels more than 10 times the legal drinking water standard.