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SETTLEMENT FUNDS CONSERVATION PROJECT IN SIERRA COUNTY, CALIF.
Release Date: 11/14/2001
Contact Information: Leo Kay, Press Office, 415/947-4306
ARCO pays for cleanup agreement breach at Leviathan Mine
SAN FRANCISCO ARCO paid $720,000 last week to purchase a 480-acre conservation area in the Bald Mountain Range in Sierra County, Calif. as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a breached 1998 agreement to treat contaminated drainage from the Leviathan Mine Superfund Site outside Markleeville, Calif.
The Washoe Tribe will hold the property title for the private land on Babbitt Ridge that is surrounded on all sides by the Tahoe and Toiyabe national forests. The purchase by ARCO, the successor to the former mine operator, resolves its liability for failing to prevent ponds of acid mine drainage from spilling over and contaminating the Carson River watershed during the winter of 1998. ARCO also contributed to a Nature Conservancy fund for the costs of administering a conservation easement that will forever guarantee the land's protection.
"This settlement will protect an intact portion of the ecosystem damaged by past activities at Leviathan Mine," said Keith Takata, director of the U.S. EPA's Superfund division in San Francisco. "We have great confidence that the Washoe Tribe and the Nature Conservancy will serve as model stewards of this pristine property on Babbitt Ridge. The Washoe have been tremendous advocates for the conservation and restoration of their ancestral lands in the eastern Sierra."
The Washoe Tribe plans to operate an education center on the property each summer to teach Washoe children about their traditional culture and its relationship to the environment.
Summer Cleanup Efforts Remove Immediate Threat
For the third summer in a row, work crews drew treated acid mine drainage from five storage ponds on site that store up to 16 million gallons of acidic waste, preventing materials from tainting nearby Leviathan and Bryant creeks. This year, contractors hired by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board treated the final four million gallons of concentrated acid left from previous years by pumping water out and adding controlled amounts of lime to neutralize the acid. The metals settled out of the water with the lime-treatment solids.
The EPA is overseeing actions by ARCO to address other sources of Leviathan mine acid drainage for a long-term remedy. ARCO and the University of Nevada have been developing several potential methods to continue acid mine drainage treatment year-round, a challenge because the 7,000 foot-high site is inaccessible to heavy equipment during the long winters in the Sierra Nevada.
For the past 40 years, acid mine drainage from the site has killed off aquatic life in Leviathan and Bryant creeks downstream of the mine. The East Fork Carson River, which is 10 miles downstream of the mine, had been threatened by site runoff in the past. In addition, the local watersheds along with other streams and lakes in the Eastern Sierra served as historical habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a federally listed threatened species.
State and federal agencies have tried several approaches to clean up the site since the mid- '80s, however, drainage from the site continues to pollute the streams. The U.S. EPA named the Leviathan Mine a federal Superfund site in May of 2000. The mine has not operated since 1962.