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EPA, USFS and BLM close Rinconada Mine area for cleanup work

Release Date: 11/4/2003
Contact Information: Lisa Fasano, (415) 947-4307

SAN FRANCISCO Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management temporarily closed the Rinconada Mine area to the public.

The closed area is near the Rinconada Trail on West Pozo Road near Santa Margarita, Calif. This closed off area is dangerous and fences should not be bypassed or damaged.

Preliminary soil sampling in the Rinconada Mine area has revealed elevated mercury levels which, if inhaled or ingested from dust, can pose health problems. There are also hazardous tunnels left over from past mining operations.

"We recognize that the Rinconada trail area is a valuable recreational resource for residents," said Keith Takata, the EPA's Superfund Director for the Pacific Southwest region. "However, we need to restrict access in this area to prevent unnecessary exposure to the community and take steps to address hazards at the site."

The USFS, BLM and EPA are implementing a safety closure plan to temporarily restrict assess to the site. Measures include the temporary fencing, a forest and area closure plan and additional steps to further restrict access in the future, as more information is obtained and clean up work is started. The EPA is planning further assessment of the mercury contamination this winter. A multi-agency clean up of the site is planned in the spring.

In addition, the USFS is currently working on a plan to close off the mine openings so that no one can fall into these openings or injure themselves by entering abandoned mine workings. The BLM is also working on removing abandoned buildings to decrease the danger to the public. The three agencies are trying to keep the Rinconada Trailhead open, while stopping mine use.

"We need the public's cooperation in staying out of the mine tunnels and leaving our signs and barriers in place" said Kathleen Phelps, District Ranger for the Santa Lucia Ranger District. "Exploring the tunnels is dangerous. The tunnels are very unstable and a person could easily fall to their death."

"The BLM is working in cooperation with the United States Forest Service and the United States Environmental Protection Agency in temporary closure of the area around the Rinconada Mine", said John Skibinski , Acting Field Office Manager of the Bakersfield Field Office, Bureau of Land Management. "The focus of our efforts will be the removal of environmental hazards associated with the Rinconada mercury mine."

In the future, access to the entire trailhead area will be closed during the cleanup efforts; or if the fencing is not successful in stopping visitors to the mine area.

This closure is being done in cooperation with neighboring private property owners and is focused on causing the least amount of public impact. The parties involved in this closure are asking for the cooperation of the community in complying with closure boundaries, posted signs and not tampering with fencing and locks in the area.